Patchwork refers to joining shaped fabric pieces together to create a bigger fabric piece in beautiful designs. Traditionally, fabric scraps leftover from other sewing projects and salvaged from old clothes are used to make the patchwork pieces.
Once upon a time, patchwork was a method of making beautifully patterned fabric at your own pace and in the design you want, with whatever fabric you have. Today there are differently patterned fabrics available at shops, but patchwork still holds its place as a creative work involving fabric. It is a major part of quilting and also for making a lot of other sewn articles.
Important elements of Patchwork
Fabric : The most important thing in patchwork is to choose fabric of the same type – of the same weight – printed or plain. Use fabrics that do not fray much or stretch. Simple cotton, Silk and Linen are used mostly. But whatever fabric you use, always prewash the fabric. (Or atleast steam press with your steam iron to get the effect of prewashing)
Tools : The other important thing is to have templates and tools to draw and cut the fabric pieces for the patch pieces, accurately, so that they all match to make preplanned designs. A rotary cutter and self healing mat can be an asset in patchwork as you can cut multiple layers of fabric in one go. You may also want a plastic ruler. Square shaped clear rulers can be used to cut straight edges for your square and rectangular pieces and a protractor can be used to mark angles exactly.
Fussy cutting is a term used to indicate cutting motifs specifically from fabric so that they are highlighted in patchwork.
How to plan your Patchwork
There are many established patterns in patchwork – some blocks which are celebrated and used frequently- like the nine patch block, log cabin block, star blocks. You can check out some of the most popular (55) quilt blocks in this post here.
You can also design your own patchwork with the fabric you have by joining together square shaped, rectangular shaped, triangle shaped, thin strip shaped fabric pieces together in preplanned manner or in a random manner. Some other very commonly used shapes are Traingles, Diamonds, Hexagons, Clamshells.
Patchwork can also be done with the help of templates – in fact this is an oft used and a very accurate method of doing patchwork. Templates are cut out of hard paper/cardboard or freezer paper or plastic sheet, or you can buy them from shops.
To make the template yourself the freezer paper template is ironed on to the fabric and then cut out. If you have heavy card template or the plastic ones, they are kept on the fabric and traced, seam allowances are added to this. They are then cut out and used.
To plan the design of your patchwork, draw the design you have in mind on a piece of paper, then divide the block into the several parts as per your plan and then they are traced to another paper and added seam allowances as required – cut out these paper templates. Trace these templates on fabric. Cut these shapes from fabric and then join together to form the patchwork of your design.
The common rules in sewing the patch pieces
Keep the fabric pieces rightsides together to the inside and join the seams. This is basic.
Do not forget to press the seams and seam allowances. Press seam allowance towards the darker fabric.
Remember to press the seams in a row in the same direction.
After the whole patchwork is done, you may want to press the seam allowances open.
5 methods used to join the patchwork fabric pieces
1 Hand sewing the pieces
You can use a backstitch or a running stitch to sew small pieces of fabric together in patchwork. Hand sewing gives you some extra control especially when you are sewing with small pieces of fabric. Do not forget to secure the thread at the start and ending.
2 Chain piecing – Sewing machine
This is the method of sewing patch pieces continuously without breaking the thread in between or even lifting the presser foot – the pieces are sewn in a chain – this is done for convenience and time saving. After the sewing is done the thread is cut.
3 Strip piecing
This is a time-saving method of joining fabric pieces together. In this method strips of fabrics are joined together and then they are cut apart. Afterward, they are joined in different sequences to form different patterns.
4 Sewing 2-triangle units easily
Joining triangular pieces easily This is a method of making many numbers of 2-triangle square units easily.
Take the two square fabric pieces together which you want to join as 2-triangle squares and mark diagonally across. Now sew on each side of this line, 1/4 inch apart from this line.
Now cut across the middle line. Open it up and you get two 2-triangle square units.
5 String piecing
This involves joining strips of fabric which may be of uneven width together to form the patchwork piece.
6 English paper piecing
This is a method used to join together geometric shapes like diamonds, hexagons, honeycombs, using paper templates. This is usually done by hand stitching.
Paper templates are cut out and then fabric is cut with extra seam allowance.
The paper piece is enclosed inside the fabric with the seam allowance turned inside and pressed – many units like this are formed and they are joined by carefully hand stitching the edges together. You can use a ladder stitch for this.
7 Crazy patchwork
In this, the patchwork is made on top of another foundation fabric. Different sized fabric pieces (with straight edges) are kept on top of the foundation fabric cut in the size of patchwork you want. A cotton lining material is used as the foundation.
Keep the fabric pieces on the foundation fabric and join them using insertion stitches, hand embroidery stitches like feather stitch or fly stitch. You can see an example of this in this post on making fabric from fabric scraps.
8 Somerset patchwork
In this method, small rectangular fabric pieces are folded into triangle shapes and then stitched on to a foundation piece of fabric.
9 Reverse pieced foundation piecing for patchwork
This method is used to make pretty designs and motifs on a patchwork with good accuracy. The fabric pieces are arranged in the design you want on the backside of the foundation fabric. The fabric pieces are then joined together along the edges.
10 Seminole Patchwork
This involves joining fabric pieces and cutting them and then re-joining them in different sequence. They are then cut at an angle to form patterned designs
Join strips of fabric at an angle.
Mark at an angle and cut and you will get an angled band which can be used in many ways – especially as borders for blankets, quilts etc.