I borrowed an apron pattern from my mother a while back-- something she'd had sitting in her pattern drawer since before I was born, and that I'd always rather liked. Then more recently, I got some lovely samples of the Williamsburg Sampler quilting fabrics collection from Ruby Jane's Retro Fabrics
in exchange for making something awesome and posting a tutorial about it, and so I dug out the pattern, and this is what I came up with:
Obviously, working from quarter-yard pieces wasn't going to get me a whole front panel, so I did a little patchwork, using freezer-paper piecing techniques that normally get used in quilting. That way I got to show off bits of all the fabrics, which made me happy because I didn't have to pick out favorites.
*a ruler or two (it's nice to have both long and short ones)
*scissors (both fabric & paper, if you keep multiple pairs)
*several fabrics that you like together; if they're the same weight & type, that helps
*an iron (& ironing board)
Start out by tracing the pattern onto your freezer paper, using the paper side (plastic side down). Make sure you make any pattern alterations before you start, and if you're working with a piece that gets cut on a fold, that you do both halves. Trace a dotted line around the edges to mark the seam allowance. (This part is important!)
Cut out the pattern, notches and all. (I apologize for the poor photos in this bit, by the way-- there was lots of light, but apparently my camera adjusted for the sunlight just outside of the pictures.
Now we get to the fun part: designing what your piece is eventually going to look like.
Only one of my five fabrics had a large pattern on it, so I decided to use one of the sampler blocks as a center. (You don't have to do this-- your pattern can be completely asymmetrical if you want! I would recommend starting out with straight lines, though, since curved ones can be pretty difficult to get to lie flat.)
In this case, I could see the pattern on the fabric through the freezer paper, so I pretty much just traced it, with a little bit of revision when I hadn't gotten it properly centered. (oops!) Remember you can erase and change anything up until you cut it out, so don't worry too much if you need to make revisions.
Because my center piece was fairly large and rectangular, I just made it into the center of a 9-block grid, but then I added a couple of extra seams across some of the blocks to spice things up a bit.
A couple things to keep in mind, while you're making your pattern:
*Straight lines are your friend. They can go in any direction (diagonal, up and down, side to side...) but you want your final product to be as flat as if you'd cut it all out of one piece of cloth, and that's a lot easier if you draw straight lines than curved ones. Use your rulers!
*If you can help it, you don't want to sew around corners, either. When you're designing your pattern, try to imagine cutting things out one straight line at a time. If you can cut out one piece without having to turn anywhere, then you can add another cutting line in the middle of it, and make sure you sew that first one. (does that make sense?)
So, here's the finished pattern. At this point, you probably want to erase any stray marks, or even go over the lines you want to cut with a marker. (See that double line on the right side? I really regretted that line a little later...)
You can also mark the pieces, so you won't forget which one goes where once you've cut it all up. I just numbered them from left to right and top to bottom, with a and b for the diagonals.
You may also want to draw a little chart of what went where, if that'll help you, or if your pattern is particularly complicated. You can also mark which seams you want to sew first here, if you have trouble keeping track.
Now cut out your pattern along the lines you've drawn.
Remember that line I said I was going to regret? Yes, I forgot what I was doing, and cut in the wrong place.
You can do one of three things at this point:
*If it's not going to mess up the rest of your design, you can pretend you wanted to cut there, and just go with it.
*You can re-draw the pieces that you messed up onto another bit of freezer paper and cut them out correctly. (This is probably the easiest.)
*Or, you can pretend that it will ALL BE FINE, cut on the line you meant to use, and iron the resulting strip at the edge of the piece it really ought to be still attached to. I don't actually recommend this, for reasons that you'll see in a moment.
Set your iron on low, and iron the shiny side of the freezer paper to your fabric. You can attach it to either the right side or the wrong side; it's up to you. It's probably better to stick with one or the other, though.
Think about which pieces will go next to each other, and try to arrange your fabrics so that you've got space between one color and another. (You can refer to your drawing if that helps, or just keep your pieces laid out loosely in order before you iron them on and after you cut them out.)
Remember how you drew the dotted line for the seam allowance when you first traced the original pattern? For every edge of a piece that doesn't have that dotted line on it, you're going to need to cut out seam allowance around the freezer paper. You can do this as carefully as you want to-- either measure it out and draw lines with chalk or fabric pencil, or just eyeball it. You can use anything from about 1/4 inch to the standard 5/8 inch, but it will make your life a little easier later on if all your seams are the same width.
If you iron the freezer paper in the wrong place at this point, you can always peel it off and reset it somewhere else on the fabric.
Here's the whole pattern, cut out and put back in order. See how there are seam allowances sticking out from behind the freezer paper everywhere but the outside edges? I didn't do a really good job of getting them even, but I can live with that.
On to the sewing! Line up the edges of the freezer paper, and sew as close as you can to that line. You can pin them together if you want, but for the shorter bits you may not need to. (It's easier to line up the pieces if you have your freezer paper on the right sides, but it's easier to see the line to sew if you put it on the wrong side of the fabric...) In a perfect world, where you got all your seam allowances exactly the same size, you can just line up the edges of the fabric the same way you would if you'd just cut out a commercial pattern.
Remember the order you worked out when you cut the pieces... in this case, I sewed all my diagonals first. Then I sewed the top line of three blocks, the middle line, and the bottom three, and then I sewed these three pieces together.
Once you've sewn your pieces, you should be able to open them out. At this point, the freezer paper will probably start trying to peel off the fabric. Handle it gently, and don't let it come off! You still want it to be there for the next seam.
If you've sewn too far away from the edge, or sewn through the freezer paper, you may want to take out the seam and re-sew it. If you only have a few pieces, then you can get away with a little more variation (maybe 1/8 of an inch will be ok), but if you're sewing together a lot of pieces, then all those little bits will add up.
When you go on to your next seam, do the same thing with lining up your freezer paper edges again.
Here is where I've got two rows-of-three all sewn together and ready to attach to each other.
One thing to keep in mind when you move on to larger pieces: pay attention to the way your seam allowances lie on the back, and don't sew one down going one direction at the top and another at the bottom. Otherwise it won't lie flat when you're done.
It works just the same way with the larger pieces as it did with the smaller ones-- line up the edges of your freezer paper, and sew in a nice straight line. I pinned the seam lines together here so that I'd end up with the corners in more or less the same place.
Once you've sewn all your pieces together, you can finally peel the freezer paper off. Some of it will probably be falling off already, but if you have some stuck in the seams, you may have to pull it out from both sides; it should tear around the seam line fairly easily.
Remember how I said I'd regret cutting that line in the wrong place, earlier? You can see how that little mis-cut strip has been trying to come off the whole time...
So, pull off your freezer paper and iron your seams on the back, and there you are! One lovely pattern piece, all patchworked and ready to sew.
One more note: with all those seams, your garment will probably last longer and be more comfortable to wear if you line the patchworked pieces.
So (what you were waiting for....) Here's the finished apron, full length.
And the back (um, before I put in a buttonhole so the straps don't have to cross over each other...) with a slightly simpler set of patchwork patterns.