English Paper Piecing - A Grandmother's Flower Garden

Double Flower Block

This double flower block is part of the bigger quilt.
This double flower block is part of the bigger quilt. | Source

English Paper Piecing History

The Grandmother's Flower Garden was one of the first quilts to be made using this particular method. During the Depression, quilts were made out of whatever fabric was readily available. It often meant cutting up cotton feed bags, which provided much of the fabric for the quilts. In addition to using recycled materials (more out of necessity in those days), the paper was often left in the quilts to increase the insulation factor. This was most common in colder climates, where temperatures dropped well below freezing for several weeks at a time.

Materials Required

In my experience, the best fabric for quilting is 100 percent cotton. I have tried using the poly/cotton blends but they are not as easy to hand quilt through.

In order to make a quilt using the English Paper Piecing method, you will need:

  • scissors
  • paper (freezer paper works best, but regular copy paper or newspaper will do)
  • pen
  • plastic template material (plastic bucket lids work great)
  • cotton fabric for the center of each flower - a tone-on-tone yellow works nicely
  • cotton fabric in assorted prints for the flowers
  • cotton fabric for the "path" between the blocks - white or off-white works best, but for contrast a dark color could be used as well. I personally prefer to use tone-on-tone prints (white or a light cream color)
  • quilt batting - polyester or cotton, or a blend. Alpaca batting is also an option; this would make a very warm quilt.
  • quilt backing (once again, 100 percent cotton is the favorite)
  • sewing and quilting thread (100 percent cotton)
  • thread for basting - I use polyester for this step, as it is cheaper and ends up being removed later.
  • iron/ironing board
  • needles - sharps and betweens
  • safety pins
  • straight pins

English Paper Piecing Template Cutting Instructions

Despite being more time-consuming than machine piecing, English Paper Piecing is, in my opinion, one of the more relaxing methods of making a quilt. It is also great for a take-along project while traveling, as no sewing machine is required.

  1. To begin, the first thing you will need to do is decide how big you want your pattern piece to be. I suggest a hexagon from 1 1/2" to 2" across. I have made a miniature Grandmother's Flower Garden Quilt using 1" hexagons, but that is very time-consuming. For anyone wishing to make a usable quilt, I suggest starting with the 2" hexagon.
  2. Once you have decided on your hexagon size, cut the shape out of your plastic template material. You may wish to cut more than one; this way you can enlist the help of another person when it is time to trace the pattern onto your paper.
  3. Determine how many hexagons you will require by multiplying the number of flowers by the number of blocks you will need. It is at this point you must decide if you will be making the blocks single or double. If single, multiply your number of blocks by seven (number of hexagons needed for each flower). If making a double flower, the number of blocks will need to be multiplied by 19. Keep in mind the double flower will result in a larger block, so you will not need as many.
  4. In addition to the flower blocks, you will also need a large number of hexagons for the path between the blocks. It is recommended you start with at least 100 extra hexagons; more may be cut out as needed.
  5. Trace around the plastic template onto freezer paper (or other, depending on your preference). Be sure to trace on the paper side, as the plastic coated side will not mark well.
  6. Cut out the paper pieces as carefully as possible. The size of each finished quilt patch will be the same size as the paper piece.
  7. Note: Depending on the variety of fabrics you have and the number of blocks you will be making, you could cut out 18 of each print. This will allow for either three single flower blocks or two double flower blocks (the second ring uses 12 patches). Mix and match for the desired effect.

Quilt Layout

This is a partial quilt top made from double flowers - it is a WIP.
This is a partial quilt top made from double flowers - it is a WIP. | Source

Single Patch

This is one patch with the freezer paper ironed on, but before the basting.
This is one patch with the freezer paper ironed on, but before the basting. | Source

Basted Patches

This is what the patches should look like after basting.
This is what the patches should look like after basting. | Source

Quilt Block Pre-Assembly Instructions

When you have a sufficient amount of paper templates cut out of your choice of paper, it is time to decide on your fabrics of choice. You will need at least 1/8 of a yard of fabric for each color. The picture to the right shows a partial double flower layout (this quilt is a WIP).

  1. Iron your fabrics to remove any wrinkles.
  2. If using freezer paper, press the coated side down on the wrong side of the fabric, using a lower, dry heat setting. Leave at least half an inch between the paper pieces, as you will be adding a seam allowance to each piece as you cut. if not using freezer paper, a small dab of a glue stick will temporarily secure the pieces in place, or a straight pin will also work. I find the basting thread does catch on the pins, so I prefer to use the freezer paper.
  3. When the paper pieces are ironed on, cut out the patches. Remember to add the seam allowance.
  4. Using a needle and thread, fold one side of the fabric patch over the edge of the paper and baste in place using long stitches. To make the corners neat, fold the second edge over the first edge, third edge over second, and so forth. it is not necessary to knot the basting thread, just be sure to leave a long enough tail on it so you are able to tighten it if it loosens.
  5. When you have basted your center patches and flower patches, you can start assembling your blocks. I suggest laying out your blocks (especially if making a double flower) to get the most pleasing combination of prints.
  6. When you have decided on your color combinations, it is a good idea to run a thread through the stack of patches of each flower to keep it together. Do this in the order of how the patches will be assembled: center on top, followed by the first ring, then the second ring. Push your needle down through the stack, then back up, leaving a tail so patches can be removed as needed.

One Double Flower

This is the back of one block. Note the paper has been left in place at this point.
This is the back of one block. Note the paper has been left in place at this point. | Source

Backside of Quilt Top

Note how the paper pieces are removed, except for the outer edge.
Note how the paper pieces are removed, except for the outer edge. | Source

Block and Top Assembly

Now that the patches are basted and you have your color combinations sorted out, it is time to assemble the blocks.

  1. Remove the center patch from the stack and the first patch of the ring. Place them right sides together and whip stitch together, being careful not to catch the paper template in the stitching.
  2. It is important to knot your thread at this stage, as you do not want your quilt top coming apart.
  3. Join the first round to the center patch, the add the second round (if making double flowers).
  4. When all of the blocks are finished, it is time to join them into a quilt top. You may wish to mark each block with a piece of paper so you know where it will be placed (ie: Row 1, Block 1, etc.).
  5. Add a round of the "path" to the first block only. If you add a round of path to each block, you will have a double row of path, and all that is needed is a single row. Refer to the picture of the quilt top above to see placement.
  6. Note: papers may be removed from the block when they are surrounded on all sides by stitching. This will cut down on the number of paper pieces you will have to cut out. They can be reused several times, depending on how tattered the edges get. T remove the paper, simply take out the basting stitches and pull paper out.

Miniature Grandmother's Flower Garden Quilt

This particular miniature quilt took over 100 hours to hand piece; the hexagons are one inch wide.
This particular miniature quilt took over 100 hours to hand piece; the hexagons are one inch wide. | Source

Finishing the Quilt

When the blocks are all joined and the path is bordering the blocks on all sides, it is time to finish the quilt. Additional path patches may be added to make the top with straight edges (see photo). Half hexagon patches may be used to make the straight edges. If you prefer a scalloped edge, simply only fill in enough to make the edge with a smaller gap. I do not have one available for a photo at this point.

  • To finish the quilt, press the backing fabric and lay it right side down on a flat surface. Place the batting on top, then the quilt top right side up. Be sure all of the papers have been removed from the top before layering.
  • Baste the layers together with safety pins or long running stitches. I personally prefer the pins as it is easier to remove them as I go along with the quilting process. Plus, the threads will get caught up in the quilting if using a machine for the quilting process.
  • Place the quilt sandwich in a quilt frame and start from the center and work outwards. There are a variety of designs or methods for quilting; a quick online search will give you plenty of options.
  • When quilted, add a binding and make a label for the back of your quilt.

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Comments 24 comments

snakeslane profile image

snakeslane 4 years ago from Canada

Hello brsmom, what a great hub on paper 'flower garden' quilting. I have an unfinished flower garden quilt started by my Great Grandmother, it has the hexagonal pieces, but it is not done with paper. I'm wondering what exactly is the purpose of the paper? Does it make for easier handling? The quilts you have made here are gorgeous, and the photos are excellent and helpful to illustrate the process. Voted up and useful/beautiful. Regards, snakeslane

Helena Ricketts profile image

Helena Ricketts 4 years ago from Indiana

This is really neat. Quilting is a dying art that I've found not a whole lot of people do anymore. I do hand quilting and piecing when I have time but that time seems to be very short of late. The Grandmother's Flower Garden is by far my favorite quilt pattern. Very nice hub!

krsharp05 profile image

krsharp05 4 years ago from 18th and Vine

You've done a really good job of explaining how to quilt. The photo's are excellent step-by-step help as well. I would love to learn this craft but I think I would need an in-service teacher! Beautiful finished product. -K

brsmom68 profile image

brsmom68 4 years ago from Alberta, Canada Author

Thank you @snakeslane! The paper is used to help with precision piecing; the corners all meet perfectly as the paper helps stabilize the fabric. Minor adjustments can be made if it appears one side isn't going to meet up with another. I envy you having a quilt started by your Great Grandmother; I'm presuming the pieces are sewn together using a running stitch?

brsmom68 profile image

brsmom68 4 years ago from Alberta, Canada Author

Thank you @Helena Ricketts! I love the Grandmother's Flower Garden pattern. I also find the paper piecing to be very relaxing; it also works well for the Tumbling Blocks pattern. I made my sister a lap size Tumbling Blocks quilt using this method, and spent well over 100 hours piecing the top alone. Also note the miniature quilt pictured had over 100 hours in the piecing as well.

snakeslane profile image

snakeslane 4 years ago from Canada

Hi brsmom, thank you. Yes the pieces are hand stitched using a running stitch. I also have many many (hundreds) of the hexagonal pieces already cut, but not sewn together, and uncut lengths of the original fabric. So I think I could finish it, something I've always dreamed of doing, but never got around to it. :(

brsmom68 profile image

brsmom68 4 years ago from Alberta, Canada Author

Thank you @krsharp05! I taught myself how to quilt from books and magazines after seeing a co-worker's Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt over 20 years ago. It is not difficult, and as I said in the article i find hand piecing to be very relaxing. I am also very guilty of not doing any quilting in any way, shape or form for over a year now. I have been commissioned to make a quilt for a friend, so will be getting back into it soon.

May I suggest a Further Education course, or even step-by-step instructions for a placemat using hexagons to get a feel for the technique.

brsmom68 profile image

brsmom68 4 years ago from Alberta, Canada Author

@snakeslane - Don't wait any longer - you have an heirloom which should be finished and treasured. I can't wait to see pictures of the completed quilt. ;) (no pressure).

snakeslane profile image

snakeslane 4 years ago from Canada

Thanks brsmom, yes, it is a treasure, I've been packing it around for 40 years, just recently hung it up where I could at least look at it finished or not, it is beautiful. Multicoloured really tiny floral printed fabrics.

ChitrangadaSharan profile image

ChitrangadaSharan 4 years ago from New Delhi, India

Very nice and creative! I have made many quilts at home, but not in this particular shape. I am definitely going to try it. Great hub.

Riverfish24 profile image

Riverfish24 4 years ago from United States

SO very creative! Nice hub!

brsmom68 profile image

brsmom68 4 years ago from Alberta, Canada Author

Thank you @ChitrangadaSharan and @Riverfish24!

Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

Great hub! Really shows how much hard work goes into quilts. Sometimes I don't think folks realize how much work goes into them. Especially a piece like this. Thanks.

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

I always enjoy looking into your hub posts. You post some very creative and interesting ideas, this one is no exception.

brsmom68 profile image

brsmom68 4 years ago from Alberta, Canada Author

Thank you @Glimmer Twin Fan! It is very difficult to put the time into a quilt such as this and expect any sort of return, which is why I leave my hand-pieced quilts for myself or gifts to family members. Any quilts I plan to sell are all sewn on the machine, as I will at least get paid for my time to a certain degree. Seeing handquilted quilts at stores such as Quilts, Etc for less than $100 pains me, as I know someone worked very hard and did not get paid much for their efforts (sweatshops come to mind).

brsmom68 profile image

brsmom68 4 years ago from Alberta, Canada Author

Thank you @teaches12345! I love quilting, and hand-piecing is my favorite. I have done very little in the line of quilting in the past two years, but am hopeful that changes once the colder weather sets in again.

Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

So many people I know quilt and it's one of those hobbies I've always wanted to take up. I only wish there were more hours in a day to do all the things I'd like to to.

Fantastic hub!

Pinning, sharing and voting up.

brsmom68 profile image

brsmom68 3 years ago from Alberta, Canada Author

Thank you @Just Ask Susan - I haven't devoted much time to my quilting lately, as I am quite busy with my books, alpacas and getting inventory made for my online business and upcoming craft sales.

You're right - if only there were more hours in the day. :)

Suzanne Day profile image

Suzanne Day 3 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

I love paper piecing and it is my favourite form of quilting. I use paper leftover from the office which is recycled because it had one side free. Do you agree it is far easier to get shapes joining and the corners correct when paper piecing? I found that was definitely the case, as opposed to quilting by machine. Voted awesome, must have taken a little while to make this hub and a bit of work too!

brsmom68 profile image

brsmom68 3 years ago from Alberta, Canada Author

Thank you Suzanne for taking the time to read my article, as well as the lovely comment. Yes, I do agree it is easier to get the pieces to match better with paper piecing, especially when working with angles and curves (I have an Apple Core one in progress as well). I have tried the GFG with the machine, and it was a disaster. I haven't quilted in awhile - I have been busy with my books and alpaca fiber. Perhaps I will start taking my quilting with me when I go to the local library for UFO day. :)

Ronda Cooper 2 years ago

I made one 25 yrs ago using this same method. I loved making this! Time to start a new one!!

brsmom68 profile image

brsmom68 2 years ago from Alberta, Canada Author

I also made a miniature one several years ago; I agree...time to make another.

Ronna Pennington profile image

Ronna Pennington 20 months ago from Arkansas

I've always wanted to try this! Maybe this summer with your tutorial!

brsmom68 profile image

brsmom68 20 months ago from Alberta, Canada Author

Ronna Pennington - Thank you for taking the time to comment. I love the pattern, and the flexibility English Paper Piecing offers. With the main prep work done at home, the project itself can be taken anywhere. No need to haul around a sewing machine. :)

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