Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Machine Sewing Hexies

Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the Y-seam*.

Blocks arranged, with Oscar looking on
I happened to have a large piece of sweatshirt fabric which makes a great platform for arranging the blocks. I arranged the blocks so there are hardly any blocks with orange centers next to each other. I think the overall effect isn't too "orange", so I'm pleased with it, at least so far.

Some connectors sewn in
I am not using the traditional layout of offsetting the blocks that you usually see on GFG quilts. Instead, I am setting them side by side, with lots of light colored connecting hexies in between. This has the overall effect of lightening overall color of the quilt. I am also adding some colored blocks to add a bit of interest and so as not to lighten it too much.

Precision marking!
I was idly thinking of putting together a tutorial on machine sewing hexies, but then I found this excellent YouTube video, which explains the piecing process extremely well.  It focuses on a product to print the fabric with the sewing and cutting lines, but the basic sewing can be adapted for use without the printing.  There are a few other videos out there that explain machine sewing hexies, but I think this one is the best that I've seen.  What I've done is to make a cardboard hexagon, shown above, and carefully made holes at each intersection.  After transferring these to the fabric hexies, it's easy to sew from one point to the other.

I have to apologize for the poor quality of photographs. One of the things I really want for my new sewing room is a photo station, with lots of lights so I can get good closeups.

Numbering the hexies
Also, when sewing the blocks to the connectors, I've discovered that it helps to number the blocks, so I don't sew the wrong ones together. I'm using a Frixion pen, so the marks all disappear when the pieces are pressed.

A few other notes about machine sewing hexies.

A good ruler is key
First, accurate cutting is vitally important! If your hexies aren't perfectly cut, there is no way in the world you will end up with a precisely pieced quilt. I used a Hexagon Ruler by Darlene Zimmerman, also available at Joann's Fabrics. I was careful to cut no more than three layers of fabric at a time, to ensure accuracy.

Use the straight stitch foot and throat plate 
Second, know your machine and its capabilities. I used the quilter's piecing foot and the straight stitch throat plate, which helps with precision sewing. I also noticed that when I start stitching, the fabric slides backwards just a bit, not even a millimeter, so I would position my mark towards the back of the hole in the foot. Third, never sew into the seam allowance, not even half a stitch. If you are not able to position the needle to sew precisely enough, it helps to sew the seam a bit short. You will be able to pivot the hexie for the next seam and the gap won't show.

One video I saw mentioned to use the locking foot, but I found that backstitching one or two stitches at the beginning and end of each seam to work much better, and was easier to rip out if I needed to. Which I did, at least at first. The video in the link above recommends using the needle down position, but I found the needle up position to work better for me. When the needle stops in the down position the foot rises just a bit. Then is great for sewing curves, but not for this application. I prefer the presser foot to be firmly on the fabric at all time.

I found that steam pressing the hexies really helps. I know there is a feeling among many never to use steam when pressing quilt pieces, but in this case I find it essential. I also steam pressed all the seams prior to sewing the blocks together on the Blue and Cream Quilt. Speaking of which, the Blue and Cream Quilt has been completely pieced and quilted, but not bound. Once it is out of storage, I'll finish that project with a post.

After each sewing session, I can roll up all the pieces in the sweatshirt fabric, and lay it aside so we can sleep in the bed. Sort of a removable design wall.

If you would like to see the progress of this quilt to date, just click on this link!

* For my non English speaking readers, the title of the post is a play on the movie, Dr Strangelove or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb, a political black comedy loosely based on the novel Red Alert, by Peter George (which I actually have read).


  1. I love to see them laid out! Very pretty.

  2. It's really pretty, Cynthia! I love all the soft colours, and the different layout too. And Oscar looks very comfy! Onwards!

  3. Your quilt is lovely. I like how the light coloured connector blocks gives the quilt a light, airy feel. I also appreciate all of the tips you shared in your post. It will be a good reference when (if) I ever get to make a hexie.

  4. It's turning out really well. As you say, not overly orange!


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