There are many kinds of patchwork. I'm hooked on the kind that uses expensive top-quality printed cotton, fancy tools such as rotary cutters and self healing mats, and involves very precise measuring, cutting and sewing - a single thread-width too wide or too small can make the difference between a lovely quilt and a lumpy wonky disaster.
But there is another kind of patchwork (actually there are several) more suited to recycling used clothing, upholstery fabric, and so on. It uses paper or card templates to ensure accuracy, even with fabrics of different weights or stretchiness. It's called English paper piecing and my mum taught me to do it when I was very young. I'm going to teach it to you now.
1. Measure a square accurately and cut it out of heavy card. Use this as your template to cut lots more squares of waste paper or card. If your fabrics are quite heavy, card is better. Paper is adequate for lighter fabrics such as cotton. You can use any size of square. Bigger squares mean less sewing and your quilt will be finished quicker. Smaller squares make better use of your fabric with less waste. 4" squares is a good compromise.
2. Cut pieces of fabric that are larger than your papers all around. You need at least 1/4" overlap at all points. Place a paper square on to the wrong side of the fabric scrap, then fold the edges over and secure.
3. Traditionally you secure the fabric on to the papers with large tacking stitches, and this is what I always do. But Gabrielle from Permaculture in Brittany uses masking tape, and Stephanie from A Roker Artist once used staples (she was using very heavy upholstery fabrics - staples would make big holes in finer fabric so I don't recommend them). Check that the pretty side of the fabric is showing - if the grotty side is showing you've tacked your fabric on upside-down.
4. When you have a stack of tacked (or taped) fabric squares, lie two of them face-to-face and stitch them together with small neat stitches. Just nip the edges of the fabric. Try not to sew through the paper, although it can't be helped sometimes. Open your pieces out flat - they should lie nicely and the stitches should be unobtrusive.
5. Keep sewing squares together. Don't remove the papers until the square is entirely surrounded by other squares.
6. That's it. You can stop when you run out of fabric or when your patchwork is as big as you want it. I'll write another post soon about how to turn your patchwork into a quilt. But you could also turn it into a tablecloth (just hem the edges), curtains (there are instructions all over the internet for how to make curtains), clothing, a duvet cover, or anything you like.
Other shapes you can use are hexagons (if you arrange the colours carefully you can make the traditional pattern known as Grandmother's Flower Garden), diamonds (careful colour placement makes the traditional pattern known as tumbling blocks), rectangles, lozenges or any other shape that tesselates.
This is Part 1 of a three part series. Part 2 is Another Way to Make Patchwork and part 3 is How to Make a Quilt.