This needle book tutorial is a great introduction to so many different sewing and quilting skills – it would be an ideal project for a beginner who wants have a go at a variety of techniques.
You can have a go at making a basic English paper piecing (EPP) motif, and machine appliqué it into place, take a shot at some very effective straight line machine quilting, and then have fun making your own short piece of bias binding and using it to bind a gently curved edge.
So as there’s lots to do, let’s get right on!
You will need
For the hexagon flower:
- Seven hexagon paper pieces with 1in sides (you can download some printable ones here – just print the 5th page).
- Seven fabric hexagons (roughly cut, there is no need to be accurate), with at least 1/4in bigger than the paper hexagons on all sides. The fabrics I used are mostly by Riley Blake and are from my sponsors – do check out the lovely fabrics at Black Sheep Wools.
For the needle book
- 1 piece fabric for the outer section measuring 7in by 8in – I used yarn-dyed Essex linen in flax available from my sponsors – Dragonfly Fabrics.
- 1 piece of fabric for the inner section measuring 7in by 8in
- 1 piece of quilting batting measuring 8in by 9in
- 1 piece of felt measuring 5 1/2in by 10in for the pages – I use the 20x30cm wool felt sheets from my sponsors, Cloud Craft.
- 1 FQ to make the bias binding, or use 23in ready made bias binding
- KAM snap or sew-on press stud (optional)
- Pattern piece A and pattern piece B (the links will take you to Box.com where you can safely download the pdf files. Please use Adobe Reader to view and print the files – using an internet browser will not reliably print them to size – I know, I have tested them! Make sure when you print that the ‘Custom Scale’ option is showing 100% – again, that will make sure the pieces are the right size. Feel free to ask for advice if you are struggling with this).
Step 1: Make the hexagon pieces
English Paper Piecing (EPP) is a traditional style of patchwork done by hand. Fabric pieces are folded and basted round a paper piece, sewn together using small overcast/whipstitch stitching, then the papers are then removed from the fabric.
Take a piece of fabric and a paper piece and position the paper so that at least one of its straight edges is in line with the grain of the fabric. Turn over one of the fabric sides and use a pin, a binding clip or plastic covered paperclip to secure the fold. I like to use Clover binding clips for this purpose.
There are a few ways of basting the fabric to the paper piece. Here are a couple that you might like to try.
Basting through the paper
For this method the stitching will need to be removed later, so use a contrasting thread to make the thread easier to spot later. Fold the next side around from the clipped/pinned side, and make a stitch to hold this folded side in place, stitching through the fabric and the paper piece. As you get to the next corner corner, fold the next side down, making a sharp point at the corner, and continue sewing round, folding as you go. When you finish, make sure your thread is on the same side as the starting knot (I haven’t done that in these pictures – so sorry, this is not my preferred method so I am out of practice), so that you can remove the basting stitches more easily when you are removing the papers.
Thread your needle with a neutral coloured thread (I have used a contrasting thread so that you can see the stitches) – use neutral so that there is no need to remove the basting stitches later. Fold the next side around from the clipped/pinned side, and make a small stitch to through the folded fabric in the corner, without going through the fabric. Keeping the thread on the wrong side, fold down the next edge, and make another small stitch to hold the folded corner in place. Continue sewing round until you reach your starting point, and fasten off with another small stitch on the wrong side.
Use your preferred method to baste all the hexagons.
Step 2: Stitch the hexagon flower
A small needle and fine thread make all the difference to your hand-stitching here – I use a Sharps size 11 needle, which is pretty small, and Aurifil Mako 50 cotton thread. A neutral coloured thread is ideal – cream, beige, grey are all good options. Take two of the hexagons and place the right sides together, making sure that the corners are very precisely aligned. Make a small knot in the end of your sewing thread, and bring your needle up, at a corner, between the fabric and the paper piece.
I like to whipstitch my hexagons together (there are other ways, but this is the most commonly used method). Whipstitch is worked from right to left (if you are right handed). Bring the needle down through the top piece, just picking up a couple of threads and down through the other piece, again only picking up a couple of threads and taking care not to stitch into the paper template. The stitches should be worked close together, ideally about 1.5mm apart.
As you add hexagons, you will be able to stitch longer seams (as the blue lines above indicate) but make a small knot in your thread or back stitch at all corner joins, even if you aren’t finishing a line of stitching.
When you have finished your motif, carefully pull out the basting stitches if you need to, and then gently slip out all the papers. Press the finished motif to really sharpen those creases and keep them in place now you have removed the papers.
Step 3 – Prepare the needle book fabrics
Put the outer fabric and inner fabric pieces together, and then pin pattern piece A to them, and cut out. Cut a piece of batting about 1/2in bigger all round.
Use pattern piece B to cut 1 or 2 pieces from the felt (depending on whether you want one or two pages in your needle book).
Cut a piece measuring 2in by 23in from the bias binding fabric. Cut this piece at a 45 degree angle to the grain of the fabric. The easiest way to do this is to fold the FQ diagonally across the middle to create a large triangle. Put the 1in line on your quilting ruler along this folded edge, and then cut the fabric – this should give you a piece that is 2in by about 25in. Press this piece in half lengthways – it will be quite stretchy because you have cut it on the bias, be careful not to pull it out of shape. Unfold again, then press the two long edges in towards the middle, as shown:
Step 4 – Quilt the needle book outer
Put the piece of batting against the wrong side of the outer fabric, and pin with a couple of pins. Mark a line across the middle of the needle book outer, at a 45 degree angle. You can eyeball this, or if you have a quilting ruler, line up the 45 degree line on the ruler with the grain of the fabric, and the edge of the ruler will be at the required angle. You should start in the middle (ish) because this lessens the likelihood of getting lumps and bumps in the fabric between the rows of quilting.
Mark another line a generous 1/8th inch away. Stitch both of these lines, taking your stitching past the end of the fabric and onto the batting.
Mark another line 5/8th inch away, and then another a generous 1/8th inch away from that.
Continue with this pattern until you have completed all the lines in that direction. Feel free to make more than a couple of lines at once – because I used a chalk pen to mark, I didn’t want to get too far ahead of myself because the chalk rubs off quite easily.
Repeat, again working from the centre of the needle book outwards, with lines in the opposite direction.
Step 5 – Appliqué the motif to the needle book outer
Position the hexagon motif centrally on the quilted outer. I make a quick fold in the outer, and then line up the central line of the motif with the fold.
Use washable glue or pins to secure the motif, then machine stitch round the central hexagon, then round the outer edge.
Step 6 – Sew the felt pages in place
Mark a line down the centre of the right side of the lining fabric.
Use an iron to press a fold into the one or two felt pieces. Unfold the felt and then place the fold along the marked line.
Stitch the pages in place, reverse stitching at either end of the stitching.
Pull through the thread ends to the back of the lining piece, and tie off to make them really secure.
(Have to make a quick apology here – you might notice that my felt pages are bigger than the ones you have cut with pattern piece B – my original pages were too large and interfered with the positioning of my snap fastening, so I trimmed them down. Don’t worry, the pattern piece B is the correct size!).
Step 7 – Bind the needle case
Unfold one end of the bias binding, then fold and press about 1/2in of one of the narrow ends.
Put the lining and linen outer wrong sides together – line up the central seam of the felt pages with the central line of the motif on the front – use pins to help you make sure they are in line. Starting with the narrow end that you folded, pin the binding round the edge of needle book, aligning the long raw edge of the binding with the edge of the needle book, gently easing it around the curves. You are going to be sewing along the first fold of the binding, so this fold needs to be nicely lined up with the needle book, with no lumps or bumps. Leave the last inch or so of the binding unpinned.
Machine stitch the binding in place, stitching round until you reach the unpinned part of the binding. Pull the needle book out from under the machine and pin the final bit of binding in place, so that it sits nicely on top of the folded beginning section. Complete sewing the binding in place.
Fold the binding to the inside of the needle book.
Slip stitch the binding onto place on the inside of the needle book. Apply a KAM snap or sew on a press stud to finish if you want a fastener.