I’ve put together some Top Tips For English Paper Piecing. I’ve become obsessed with English Paper Piecing recently. It’s known as ‘EPP’ in the business and is such a lovely way to sew.
For those of you who know nothing about EPP, then it is the art of cutting beautiful fabric into a wide variety of different shapes, wrapping them in paper and then sewing them back together again in many different designs. Don’t worry about the paper, as once you have sewn around all of the sides of the fabric piece, you remove the papers and can use these again. You can use EPP in quilts, cushions, bag design, purses plus so many more beautiful sewing projects.
EPP is really mobile. It’s great to take on your holidays or out and about. Have a clean pouch or cosmetic bag to store your pieces. Make sure it is clean and large enough to hold your fabric, glue pen, needle, scissors and thread.
Before starting EPP, make your favourite cup of tea or coffee and find a really comfortable sewing position. Posture is really important when you are sitting and hand sewing for hours. Time seems to just stand still when ‘EPPing’ and you don’t want to give yourself a bad back or shoulder. Placing your work on a cushion that elevates it to your natural arm level can really help with this.
Since starting our Radiant Stars Quilt BOM, I’ve been asked lots of different questions about EPP. Hopefully, I’ve managed to answer most of them here.
I’ve designed an ‘Over the Rainbow’ Dresden Plate Quilt for the Sewing Quarter too. Detailed pictures below show Anna making a block of this quilt. if you fancy a lovely EPP project to start you off then you can buy the first three blocks on the Sewing Quarter website here.
Preparing your paper pieces:
It’s a good idea to lay out all of your paper pieces on your desired fabric at the start. There are always many different ways to organise your shapes, so planning is key. This means that you get the most shapes out of a piece of fabric as possible.
If you are cutting the same shapes out of several fabrics, you can layer the fabrics on top of each other and multi cut. You can cut approximately 4 layers of fabric (depending on the fabric weight) at the same time. If you use pins to hold in place, then use small headed pins but you can see that below, I haven’t used anything. Use a rotary cutter and mat to cut your fabric shapes. If you have one, then a rotating cutting may can be useful too. You can, of course, use scissors to cut your shapes too.
Cut the curves on the cutting mat. Again, a rotating mat can help with the ease of this process.
My preferred method of attaching the papers to the fabric is using a glue pen. I find that the best glue pen is the Sewline pen. Make sure that you glue the paper and not the fabric as it glides more easily.
You can also glue curves, although for a sharper finish, you may like to thread baste these edges. See below for thread basting.
Below is a picture of a basted EPP shape. I prefer to do all of my basting for a block or project in one go. I can then take the fully basted shapes ‘out and about’ and sew wherever I am.
Alternatively, you can thread baste. In the days before glue pens, all English Paper Piecing was done using thread basting. It’s better for the environment as there’s no plastic glue pen (but you can buy refills meaning no need to throw away). Thread basting simply means that you are attaching the fabric to the paper shape by sewing through both the fabric and the paper. Basting stitches will be removed at a later stage.
On smaller shapes, you can ‘blind’ thread baste fairly easily. Blind basting means that you sew through the fabric only and not through the paper. Secure your stitches at the corners to pull the fabric around the paper shape. There is no need to remove these stitches later as they will be hidden on the wrong side of the quilt.
Needles. We are talking sharp. A longer needle makes sewing easier. Use a size 9-11 (9 being longer than 11). Make sure that the eye of the needle is not so small that it punctures your finger. This is especially important if you are sewing lots of blocks in one evening. You can, of course, use a thimble but do find one that fits well and that you like using. It should almost feel like it is part of your finger. EPP can be hard to put down once you start!
In the example below, the sides of the Dresden Plate are basted using glue and then the curved end is gathered within the fabric seam.
When basting diamonds and triangles, you will get ears at the sharp points. Folding these so they all point in the same direction will make piecing easier as they will lie flat.
Assembling an EPP Block:
I recommend using a neutral thread. Something like a cream or off white is perfect. Gutermann polyester threads are great and many people also use Aurifil threads too. You can of course, colour match thread to fabric if you want a perfect finish.
It’s a good idea to anchor the thread to the needle to stop the thread from pulling through. Firstly tie a knot at the bottom of the thread as usual. Then, simply tie a knot with the short end of the thread around the eye of the needle. This keeps the thread more securely attached to the needle and stops endless re-threading.
To minimise knots, thread your needle from the end that comes off the spool. The knotted end will be at the end that was closest to the spool. Once it is threaded, run the thread through your fingers 2 or 3 times to reduce twisting. If you wish, you can use a wax or a thread conditioner.
Once you have basted all of your paper pieces, it’s time for the fun part. To sew the paper pieces together, place them right sides together. Stitch together using a whipstitch using stitches as close together as you can and by picking up just a few threads of each fabric piece. This makes the seams strong and the stitches invisible. You will need a good light source for EPP. Once you have stitched around each side of a paper piece then the paper can be removed. A cocktail stick can be a handy tool for this.
Just keep adding more pieces to your block and build it up according to whichever pattern you are using.
When you have finished a block or a section of EPP, you can press and starch for a lovely crisp finish. This block is being appliquéd onto a cream background and so it is essential that you press and starch it well. You can use a clean cloth or heat resistant mat to protect the fabric or, make sure your iron is clean to start with. This Dresden Plate block needed a lot of ironing to make it flat due to the circular nature of the block.
When making a block that will be appliquéd onto a backing, you will need to iron and starch with the papers still in. Then remove the papers and press and starch again.
If you have used glue to baste then the paper can simply be teased away from the fabric. If it does stick then use a small amount of water to remove. If you have used thread to baste then simply remove the stitches.
Below is an example of a finished EPP quilt. This ‘Over the Rainbow Dresden Plate’ quilt is a lovely introduction to EPP and a fairly simple project.
I hope this Top Tips for English Paper Piecing has been useful. I will be designing a new Block of the Month quilt soon which will be ready to launch later on this year.