English Paper Piecing - A Grandmother's Flower Garden
Double Flower Block
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.
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:
- paper (freezer paper works best, but regular copy paper or newspaper will do)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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).
- Iron your fabrics to remove any wrinkles.
- 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.
- When the paper pieces are ironed on, cut out the patches. Remember to add the seam allowance.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
Backside of Quilt Top
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.
- 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.
- It is important to knot your thread at this stage, as you do not want your quilt top coming apart.
- Join the first round to the center patch, the add the second round (if making double flowers).
- 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.).
- 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.
- 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
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.