English Paper Piecing and Grandmother's Flower Garden Quilt

By: Penny Halgren

 Nothing says “springtime” quite like a beautiful flower garden. For quilters, that translates to “Grandmother’s Flower Garden.”

This quilt is made up of hexagon pieces that are stitched together using the English paper piecing technique. English paper piecing is a little different from what you might think of as paper or foundation piecing, like in crazy quilts.

With a crazy quilt type of foundation, you stitch fabric pieces to a backing and overlay the fabric so seams won’t show. It’s a great way to stabilize even the smallest pieces of fabric or the velours, silks, and velvets that you normally wouldn’t’ throw into a quilt.

English paper piecing is different. With this technique, the quilter uses a paper template for each fabric piece. Cutting the fabric one-quarter inch wider all the way around is necessary. The excess fabric is folded over the sides of the paper template and basted in place.

The neat thing is that you don’t necessarily have to baste with needle and thread. Some quilters have been known to prefer a water soluble glue stick. They glue the fabric to the back side of their template, then when it comes time to remove the paper later, they simply spritz it with a spray bottle of water.

The kind of paper you choose to use for your template is up to you. Use whatever is lying around. Some quilters prefer a stiffer template, like card stock. This is a great way to recycle old greeting cards. Others like thinner paper. If you’re into recycling, this is a good way to use magazine pages and sections of your newspaper! You can actually use whatever you have around the house.

Once your fabric has been basted to your paper hexagons, you’re ready to start sewing them together. Simply whip stitch the edges of the hexagons together. To do this, whip stitch one edge to another. Just one. Continue adding them in and you will soon find the opportunity to stitch all the edges together.

grandmothers flower garden quilt
Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt

The Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt uses the hexagons to form flowers. Often times, green hexagons were interspersed into the quilt top to create a “path” round the flower garden. This takes some planning ahead, but is a nice touch when you want to recreate that look.

Hexagon quilts have been around for a long time, but the one that we refer to as Grandmother’s Flower Garden originated in the 1930s. Since this was during the Great Depression in the United States, quilters often used feed sacks for cloth. Sack manufacturers picked up on the trend and began printing pretty sacks to hold their feed.

In better economic times, quilters enjoyed fussy cutting their hexagons. They could center flowers, motifs, and other images onto their hexagons. If you want to fussy cut your fabric, you might try using a thin paper – like onion skin – for your templates. Then, you can see your fabric designs through the paper when you cut it.

This can be a great quilt as you go project, because once you have your hexagons prepared, they are very portable and can be stitched together by hand easily.

Once your hexagon quilt top is pieced, you will have to remove the paper from the back side. If you leave it in, it will probably get lumpy when it’s washed. Even if it didn’t, your quilt would be “crinkly.”

Simply turn your quilt to the back side and begin to pull the paper out from the opening in each template. A pair of tweezers might be handy for this. If a little tears, you can always use the tweezers to gently slip inside the hexagon to pull out the extra paper. Always be careful when using tweezers, though. You don’t want to poke a hole in your fabric!

Once the paper is removed, add a layer of batting and backing, then quilt as usual!

Here are some examples of English paper piecing. This is a clamshell design instead of hexagon, but the idea is the same. Click on any of the images to see a larger picture:

english paper piecing technique with clamshell design english paper piecing technique back showing paper
A fish using the English paper
piecing technique.
The back of the fish showing the clamshell shaped paper. This is pre-cut cardstock available at many quilt shops.
english paper piecing technique using clamshell design english paper piecing technique showing embroidery on clamshell fish
A close-up of the back showing thebasting and whip stitches. A close-up of the front showing the basting stitches and embroidered
eyeball and mouth of the fish.


Happy Quilting!



Penny Halgren
Master Quilte