Are you ready to get started with your first English Paper Piecing project? Have you purchased your first pattern and looking for the next step? You’re in the right place! Warning! This is a long article, full of information about finding or beginning your first English Paper Piecing project. Reading from start to finish may take some time, but we hope to answer all of your burning questions. Enjoy!
– Janice Simmons
So, What is English Paper Piecing?
English Paper Piecing
English Paper Piecing (commonly called EPP) is a method of stabilizing fabric around a heavy paper shape before sewing the pieces together to create intricately pieced designs. It provides excellent accuracy and precision piecing.
English Paper Piecing originated in England and was called Mosaic or honeycomb patchwork. In the late 1700’s, when all things English became popular in the U.S., the term English Paper Piecing was coined. The most popular shape has always been the hexagon because it makes good use of fabric scrap and is easy to assemble. The most recognizable hexagon pattern is Grandmother’s Flower Garden, which became popular in the 1920-1930s.
Foundation Paper Piecing
Foundation paper piecing involves printing a light, weight paper template of the required block and then sewing the fabric directly on to paper foundation template. Once the pieces are all sewn to the paper pattern, the paper is torn from the back of the block and the block is used in the normal way.
Hand Piecing is a traditional sewing method that utilizes a running stitch to sew fabric pieces together. The hand sewer sews a ¼” seam allowance with needle and thread by, beginning a ¼” from the end of the shape, loading stitches on the needle, and finishing ¼” away from the end of the shape by pulling the needle through the loaded stitches.
What Are The Benefits of English Paper Piecing?
English Paper Piecing offers us an easy way to precision piece shapes together. No sewing machine is needed. It is relaxing and very portable. Road trips, air travel, TV time are all opportunities to create with EPP. Fussy cutting to feature individual motifs gives your EPP project a unique look. EPP is a great use for fabric scraps.view
Handwork is becoming popular again as designers Jen Kingwell, Karen Tripp, Sue Daley and Carolyn Friedlander encourage people to pick up needle and thread and enjoy hand stitching.
(A little stitching in the airport never hurts!)
English Paper Piecing Shapes
Quilters often ask what are popular shapes for English Paper Piecing? What makes a shape popular? When a shape is easy to work with, patterns are readily available or the current trend is a particular shape or pattern, that’s what becomes popular.
Hexagons, with their six sides, are possibly the easiest shape to work with. The six-sided shape can be sewn to another hexagon and by using different colors of fabric on each round circling the center hexagon, create a variety of patterns. Single ring, double ring and triple ring patterns can be used to make strikingly beautiful quilts. A tripe ring pattern layout in a diamond configuration gives an altogether different look. Half hexagons can be added to the hexagon to expand the design possibilities.
Honeycombs or elongated hexagons are another easy shape to work with. The honeycomb can be sewn into rows, or rows with alternating rows of squares, to create a Lozenge quilt. Lucy Boston’s Patchwork of the Crosses pattern, begins with four honeycombs intersecting to make a center cross, before adding corner honeycombs to the cross and then sets of two around the center to create a block. Squares are added to connect the honeycomb blocks.
Clam shells are another popular English paper piecing shape. Their simple rounded, half circle shape may be slightly challenging to work with, but simple tips can help overcome this. Clam shells are measured by measuring the widest point across the vertical center of the shape. They are sewn together in alternating rows to form gentle curving patterns.
English Paper Piecing Templates
Acrylic EPP templates are available with either ¼” or 3/8” seam allowance, depending upon your preference. For the beginner, the 3/8” seam allowance can be a little more forgiving. You can easily make your templates using quilter’s template plastic or cardboard. Acrylic EPP templates are used to cut your fabric with the least amount of waste and proper seam allowance.
EPP acrylic templates are available in a tremendous variety of shapes and sizes. Hexagons, elongated hexagons, half hexagons, one-third hexagons, pentagons, octagons, 8 point diamonds, 6 point diamonds, squares, houses, kites, jewels, trapezoids, Dresden plates, clam shells, Chrysanthemums, equilateral triangles, pyramids, apple cores, hearts, banners, and even custom manufactured shapes. Yes, companies will custom cut acrylic templates to your specifications.
Most online stores will allow you to select between 3/8″ and 1/4″ seam allowances.
English Paper Piecing Papers
Precut paper pieces are an essential tool for EPP. You may have packs of a particular shape available from different sellers posting their packs on Instagram or Pinterest.
Precut paper templates are readily available, reusable and inexpensive. While hexagons are the most popular shape, diamonds, squares, pentagons, triangles and other geometric shapes are available too. A packet of precut paper shapes is inexpensive and can be reused several times. The precut paper piece packet insures that every piece is the same size, giving you accuracy and precision piecing. Precut paper pieces are available through online retail outlets such as The DIY Addict. Or you can cut your own by printing out shapes on card stock using your home printer.
Note: We recommend that individuals buy precut paper pieces sets that belong to a complete pattern or kit verses trying to piece together sets from different retailers or online stores. There are horror stories of quilters buying precut paper pieces from two retailers, starting their project, only to find that one of the retailers has different sized shapes than the other, making the pattern un-sew able.
Plastic templates are available and are used by basting fabric around the template. The templates are reusable, but if you are making a large project can be a little expensive.
English paper piecing papers are measured across an edge (never the center) and shapes with the same measurement fit together. A 1” hexagon will fit together with a 1” diamond, 1” triangle, 1” half hexagon, and on. Technically, a 1” kite does not have a 1” side, but if you sew 6 kites together, you will create a hexagon.
Why Should You Purchase Individual Paper Pieces AND Clear Acrylic Templates?
Some quilters choose to purchase on the precut paper pieces and not the required acrylic templates, but this is mostly individual preference (a lot of quilting is individual preference!). A large majority of English Paper Piecing kits include both the required acrylic templates AND precut paper pieces because it makes the overall process easier. Having the required acrylic templates allows you to easily see your fabric for fussy cutting (more information below). It is certainly possible to head this route, but for the beginner, it is not recommended. Cutting fabric to create intricate secondary patterns and designs is part of the fun for EPPers!
Conversely, if you purchase only the required acrylic templates and not use precut paper pieces your project will be “hand pieced” not English Paper Pieced. The individual precut paper piece shapes are used to stabilize the fabric and provide precision piecing. For the beginner, it makes EPPing much easier.
English Paper Piecing Supplies
You want to match your needle to your thread. If you are using a fine thread, switch to a fine needle. A #10 or #11 Straw needle works well. Sue Daley’s #15 milliner’s needle is especially long and fine and has a long eye, which helps with threading.
A fine thread helps hide your stitches. Superior Threads’ 60 weight Bottom Line, Gutterman’s 60 weight, or Aurifil’s 80 weight are all fine threads that work well for EPP. The myth that using a polyester thread on cotton fabric has been disproven, so don’t be afraid to use a 100% polyester thread. The polyester thread will hold up to those many passes over the edge of the paper pieces during stitching.
Generally, a spool of white, black and light gray will cover most of your sewing needs. A light, silvery gray or other light, neutral thread is a good thread color for general piecing and will blend with most fabrics. However, it will leave a grayish shadow on white or pastel colored fabrics, so for lighter fabrics use white. Of course, when sewing black fabrics you will need to use a black thread. When matching thread to your project, try matching the darker colored fabric first to see if the darker thread will blend in. Chances are the darker thread will show less on the light fabric, than the light thread will show on the dark fabric.
A water-soluble, fabric type glue is best. Sew Line and Fons & Porter are two glue pen brands that work well for EPP. Some find the economy of Elmer’s glue stick to fit their budget too. Glue should be used sparingly and applied to the paper, not the fabric. If you need to redo a piece, simply peel the fabric from the paper piece and begin again. If the glue becomes unstuck during sewing, simply touch it with a hot iron to rejuvenate it and it should stick again. If the glue becomes gummy, simply put the glue pen in the refrigerator for a bit and it will harden.
These small, strong plastic clips will hold your pieces tightly together. Using a small clip to hold your pieces together will take the pressure off of your fingers and hand and help you avoid holding the pieces too tightly, which can result in sore fingers or hands.
Rotating Cutting Mats and Rotary Cutters
The rotating cutting mat revolves so you can change the angle in which you use your rotary cutter while cutting around acrylic templates with your rotary cutter. The rotating mat is excellent for cutting around acrylic templates for fussy cutting.
Two sided mirror
A two-sided mirror consists of 2 mirrors held together in the center. Seeing the double image allows you to audition motifs on your fabric for fussy cutting.
We offer a complete list of supplies for sale HERE
Traditional English Paper Piecing Patterns
Traditional English Paper Piecing projects are easily started by purchasing the necessary acrylic template and precut papers. Many require a single, repeated shape such as a hexagon. Generally speaking, a pattern isn’t necessary as these traditional patterns are often a few shapes laid out in a predetermined pattern.
Grandmother’s Flower Garden
A traditional pattern consisting of hexagons laid out in circles with connecting pathways. The Grandmother’s Flower Garden simple construction makes it a popular beginner’s project.
Lucy Boston’s Patchwork of the Crosses
Patchwork of the Crosses (POTC) was designed in the late 1950’s by children’s author, Lucy Boston and consists of a single shape, the honeycomb (elongated hexagons) and joined with squares. This intricate-looking design features carefully fussy cut fabrics and placement to create beautiful kaleidoscope effects.
A traditional pattern, consisting of three diamonds, that creates 3-dimensional patterns through color placement. Without EPP, this pattern, with its Y-seams, is quite challenging.
A traditional pattern consisting of half circle arcs repeated across a row.
A traditional pattern with apple core shapes sewn together to create a meandering pattern.
Modern English Paper Piecing Patterns
There is no defined difference between Modern and Traditional EPP patterns. However, Modern EPP patterns emphasize:
1. Modern EPP patterns feature more distinct and individual shapes.
2. Modern EPP patterns feature more curved shapes.
3. Modern EPP patterns include a larger variety of the types and sizes of shapes put together to form intricate designs.
As English paper piecing experiences a rise in popularity, we see exciting, intricate patterns come on to the market. Designers are finding ways to arrange EPP shapes in new patterns and utilize fabrics to showcase those designs. Popular patterns include:
Designed by Karen Tripp, the DIY Addict, for the modern quilter. This design features octagons, pentagons, kites and jewels, with instructions for 4 different layouts. It is an excellent beginner’s level modern quilt.
Designed by Giuseppe Ribaudo, AKA Giucy Giuce, this pattern features octagons, diamonds, triangles and kites in intricate layouts. The pattern includes 4 different layouts and gives the EPPer the freedom to create a striking quilt.
Designed by Australian, Jen Kingwell, of Amitie Textiles.
Designed by Willyne Hammerstein and featured in her book Millefiori Quilts (book #1) from publisher Quiltmania. La Passacaglia is one of the most recognizable and unique EPP projects. It has been adopted by fabric designer, Tula Pink and now comes in various sizes.
Willyne Hammerstein’s collection of quilt designs in a variety of intricate layouts and shape combinations. All found in her thee books published by Quiltmania.
Designed by Lucy Carson Kingwell as she was falling love with her now husband. She became smitten with English paper piecing. Lucy is the daughter of EPP pattern designer, Jen Kingwell.
Designed by Lisa Prior Lucy and Kim McLean and using Katja Marek’s The New Hexagon book. 3” hexagons are featured in a monthly program until 260-320 hexagons are completed and sewn together to make a large quilt.
English Paper Piecing Books
All Points Patchwork: English Paper Piecing beyond the Hexagon, written by Diane Gilliland – an excellent and comprehensive resource for the EPP technique.
The New Hexagon: 52 Blocks to English Paper Piece, written by Katja Marek – The New Hexagon and the Glorious Hexagon quilt alongs utilize this book.
Millefiori Quilts, written by designer Willyne Hammerstein. Millefiori Quilts Book #1 (contains the La Passacaglia quilt pattern) and Millefiori Quilts book #2, published by Quiltmania. Both books contain beautiful mosaic or kaleidoscope quilts. A third book is due out in fall 2017.
English Paper Piecing Projects
English Paper Piecing makes quick work of both easy and intricately pieced quilts. The choice of project sizes is unlimited: bed quilts, lap quilts and baby quilts. EPP is perfect for home accessories, including bed runners, table runners, placemats, curtain valances and much more. English Paper Piecing is a great way to add decoration to clothing and purses. Create intricately pieced designs and then applique the patterns to your garment or accessory. The opportunities are endless.
English Paper Piecing Kits
An English paper piecing kits is an excellent way to get started with EPP. EPP kits offer great value and ease of use. They usually include a specific pattern, along with the required acrylic templates and precut paper templates to get started or complete a project. Generally, fabrics are not included and must be purchased separately giving you the opportunity to use your favorite color palette.
English Paper Piecing Tutorial
Remove The Protective Coding From Your Acrylic Templates
Hide Your Stitches Using The Flat Back Stitch
How to Fussy Cut Your Fabric
Fussy Cutting and Wrapping Your Papers
How to Mark Your Clear Templates So You Don’t Lose Them!
Best Invention Ever! Thread Snippers
Do You Bend Your Needles?
English Paper Piecing Quilts
Willyne Hammerstein’s La Passacaglia quilt is an exceptionally popular pattern featuring over lapping English paper pieced rosettes. This pattern is found in Quiltmania’s book Millefiori Quilts 1. This book features many EPP patterns with instructions in both French and English. The pattern consists of a layout showing the location of the rosettes and drawings of the templates. It does not include fabric giving you the opportunity to create your own palette. Kits with the necessary acrylic templates and precut paper pieces for this popular project are available from www.thediyaddict.com.
English Paper Piecing Resources
English Paper Piecing resources:
www.Youtube.com – Find excellent videos from The DIY Addict, Jen Kingwell, and Sue Daley showing techniques, tips and tricks to improve your EPP skills.
www.thediyaddict.com – This web site features modern EPP patterns, EPP kits, and excellent instructional videos. You can find kits for La Passacaglia, Mischief, Patchwork of the Crosses, Storm At Sea, Moonstone, and Obsession. These kits include the pattern, the required acrylic templates and all the precut paper shapes for these EPP projects. Fabric is not included in these kits so you have the opportunity to create your own favorite color palette.
www.incompetech.com – Offers printable templates in a variety of customizable shapes and sizes. Print your desired shape on card stock cut the shapes apart and you are ready to begin designing your own EPP pattern.
Instagram – A social networking app made for sharing photos and videos from a smartphone. Search for #English paper piecing, #EPP or other EPP related term to find photos and videos for inspiration. Follow EPP designers to see their latest work, work in progress or upcoming patterns, quilt alongs, and occasionally give aways.
Pinterest – search using the terms: English paper piecing, hexagon, hand sewing, or EPP to find a variety of inspirational pictures. Create your own Pinterest idea board by saving the pictures that inspire you to your personal design board.
Facebook – Join groups and share projects and help or get help from other EPPers. The DIY Addict, The New Hexagon, Glorious Hexagons, Millefiori/La Passacaglia, and English paper piecing are closed groups that share a common interest in a particular EPP quilt pattern.
Getting Started With English Paper Piecing
Choosing Your Fabric
English paper piecing designs benefit greatly when fabrics with strong contrast are used. Choose a representative range of fabric including light, medium and dark fabrics. Placing light shapes next to dark shapes can highlight both shapes. Fussy cutting individual designs or motifs from a fabric can create secondary designs when the pieces are sewn together. Don’t be afraid to play with stripes to create movement in your quilt. Use your acrylic template and a double mirror to audition motifs in your fabric before cutting.
Cutting Your Fabric
The acrylic template and rotary cutter are the easiest tools for cutting your fabric shapes. Simply square up your fabric, measure the width of your acrylic template, then cut a strip of fabric that width For example, if you are cutting a 1” hexagon, it has a width of 2 ½”, so cut a 2 ½” wide strip of fabric. Then, using the rotary cutter and acrylic template, cut your shapes by cutting around the acrylic template, then moving the template along the strip of fabric and cutting another shape until you run out of fabric. You can stack up a few strips of fabric and cut several pieces at once making quick work of cutting your fabric shapes.
Fussy cutting is a method of cutting a single motif or design from a fabric. Fussy cutting can highlight a particular motif from large scale fabrics. You can use your acrylic cutting template or a special fussy cutting finder template, with the center removed, that allows you to see the motif more easily. Move your acrylic template across your fabric to audition individual motifs until you see the motif you wish to use. Keep in mind the number of shapes you will need for each section of your design. Identify the repeats in your fabric. Is it a simple or a half step repeat that staggers the repeat? Ensure you have enough fabric for the number of motifs needed. The larger the repeat, (further apart) the more fabric needed. A half step repeat, 24” apart may require over 2 yards of fabric to obtain 6 motifs.
Using a China marker, mark small registration marks on the template for reference when cutting the next motif. OR, use a pencil, trace around the template and then cut on this line with scissors or rotary cutter. OR use your rotary cutter to carefully cut around the acrylic template. You can put a small piece of two-sided sticky tape on the bottom of your template that will adhere to the first fabric cut. Use this fabric to align the template to cut the next motif.
For accuracy, while gluing, simply punch a hole in the paper template then use a pin to hold the paper in place while you glue it, or put a small dab of glue on the fabric to hold the paper template in place before you begin gluing.
Getting Ready to Glue The Individual Shapes to the Paper Template
When covering a diamond or triangle paper template leave the ears of the fabric pointing out. All of the ears should be facing in the same direction, either clockwise or counter clockwise. This way the ears will nestle into rosettes on the back of the block after the diamonds or triangles are sewn together, keeping the bulk of the fabric down to a minimum. Do not sew the ears down or cut them off.
Glue basting is easy and quick and if you want to redo you simply peel the fabric from the paper piece and begin again. Center the paper template on your fabric, making sure each paper template lines up on the fabric piece as you desire. For fussy cut motifs, make sure the motif is centered on the paper template as you intended. Adjust as necessary. Once the motif is in place, you are ready to glue your fabric on the template. It is not necessary to have each motif exactly in the same place, as your eye will often make it look like it is perfectly placed.
Beginning along one edge of the paper template and using the edge of the glue pen, swipe a thin line of glue about 1/8” away from the edge of the paper template. Do not put glue too close to the edge of your paper template as this will making sewing the pieces together difficult. Fold the fabric over the top edge, wrap the fabric around the paper template and work around each side of the shape, applying glue and folding over the fabric as you go.
Sew basting is another option of stabilizing your fabric around the paper template. There are 2 methods of sew basting. The first, using a single strand of thread and needle, you simply hand sew through the fabric seam allowance and the paper template, wrapping the fabric around the paper template as you sew around the shape. Make sure that you stitch over the fold at each corner to secure your fabric. This method keeps your fabric securely around the paper template.
A second option is to pleat the fabric to hold it around the paper template. This method does not sew through the paper template and instead, you fold the fabric around 2 side of the paper piece, and make small stitches at the corner where the fabric folds over itself, sewing only through the fabric. Move to the next corner and fold the fabric around the paper piece and sew a few stitches there. Continue to move around your paper piece until you return to your beginning where you will secure your stitches with a small knot. When using this method, make sure your fabric is securely folded around the paper template to insure accuracy when piecing your shapes together.
Stitch along the edge of the shapes, using a fine thread and a #11 straw needle. If using the Flat Back stitch, lay the pieces flat and on the back side, stitch evenly along catching fabric from the two shapes as you go. Watch The DIY Addict’s tutorial video for instructions for this method. If using a whip stitch, place basted pieces face to face with wrong sides facing outward, align the pieces up evenly, and stitch along the edge. Knot one end of an 18” length of thread using a quilter’s knot or other large knot that keeps the thread from popping through your fabric. Using a single strand of thread (a double strand will more likely show) slide the needle beneath the seam allowance and come out at the point you wish to begin sewing. Sew only through the fabric, not the paper template. There should be a small channel along the edge of the folded fabric that your needle can pick into. Catch a small bite of fabric, but more than a few threads for stability. Stitch about 15-20 stitches per inch. You do not need to cut your thread at the end of sewing each shape, simply align the next 2 shapes and continue sewing.
At the beginning and end of each shape, knot your thread by passing the thread through a stitch loop twice before cinching the stitch closed, and then sew back 2-4 stitches to secure your knot. That way you can easily remove individual shapes later if necessary.
Small, close stitches will show less on the right side. You can use your fingers, low tact tape or small clips to hold the pieces in place as you sew. Using a small clip will take the pressure off of your fingers and hand and help you avoid holding the pieces too tightly, which can result in sore fingers or hands.
Avoid having to sew together deep “V” seams. Often, you can avoid them simply by breaking your work into shaped sections that keep the seam lines to be sewn relatively straight. For example, if sewing together a cluster of hexagons, you can sew the outer circle together before attaching it to the center hexagon. Be sure to leave one seam open to allow stitching around the center hexagon and then “out” of the circle, so that you are not struggling to add a center to a closed circle.
If you feel stuck with how to piece two shapes together, lay them out in the way you wish for them to look and work backwards. Often you’ll sew one seam and then twist it into another place to sew the other side of the shape. You can use your fingers or small clips to hold the pieces in place as you sew. You may need to bend and gently fold your shapes to be able to sew the shapes together.
Finishing Your English Paper Piecing Project
Hurray your piecing is complete and you are ready to finish your project. Decide if you want to add borders or simply end with the EPP edge. Most EPP projects end up with an uneven edge. The options for finishing those projects include: cutting and squaring up the edge, making additional pieces to fill in the edge, or appliqueing the edge onto a border.
To cut and square up your edge, simply use your quilting ruler and rotary cutter to cut the edge of your finished project. Be sure to include a ¼” seam allowance beyond any points or shape edge that you do not want to cut off. Now, if you wish add a border before quilting and binding your work.
To make additional pieces to fill in the edge, determine the shapes you need to create a straight edge. If your project consists of hexagons, you can fill in with half hexagons to get a straight edge. If your project has more complicated shapes such as pentagons or diamonds, you may need to create portions of these shapes to fill in the edge. Sew the additional shapes as needed to create a straight edge.
To applique your finished project onto a border, leave the precut papers in the outer edge of your finished EPP work. Using your cutting ruler, determine the measurement of your desired border, adding enough fabric to extend 1” beneath the finished edge of your EPP work. If needed, press your fabric now. Next, using your quilting ruler and a temporary marker (Clover marker or Roxanne’s quilting pencil), mark a line on your border fabric where the edge of your finished EPP work will be placed. You will use this marked line to align your EPP work onto the border. Next, using your glue pen and or pins, align the EPP edge along the marked line and secure it to your border. You can now hand applique your finished EPP edge onto the border. Or you can simply use your sewing machine to top stitch your EPP edge in place. If the finished EPP work has 2 edges that are straight, finish these edges after squaring up the appliqued edges first.
Add a facing is another method of finishing an uneven EPP edge. Cut your batting the size of your finished EPP quilt top. Cut your backing slightly larger. Baste your EPP top, batting and backing together, either pinning or spray basting, depending upon your preferred method. Quilt (either machine or hand) to within ¼” of the edge of your finished quilt top. Carefully trim the backing to ¼” beyond the edge of your quilt top. Clip the corners of your backing where needed so the backing can be folded beneath the quilt top. Turn the backing fabric edge so it is even with the quilt top. Using a ladder stitch, sew the backing and top together, using your needle to gently move the batting away from the sewing edge, tucking it between the top and backing. Stitch the ladder stitch in a straight line from the back to the front using small stitches in the fold of the fabric. This should give you nearly invisible stitches and a clean finished edge.
Have any questions? Leave a comment below!