English paper piecing (EPP) is a very old quilting method that is still used today to create traditionally styled sewing projects as well as modern makes. The technique involves wrapping fabric around shaped pieces of paper or card and then stitching the fabric together. The most traditional shape to use for EPP is the hexagon but today there are a huge variety of shapes that are used in English paper piecing projects.
A Sewing Jigsaw
EPP shapes can be arranged in an almost endless amount of ways which, I think, is what makes it such an addictive hand sewing technique. With so many creative possibilities there are lots of different options when deciding on a layout. Firstly you can work from a pattern or make up your own design. And secondly you can create lots of small blocks then piece them together or build one design for the full project like my Hexagon Waterfall wall hanging.
When starting out it is much easier to use shapes, or even a combination of different shapes, that have edges of the same length as this makes the actual sewing process much simpler. Once you’ve got a few projects under your belt there’s no reason why you can’t have a go at being really experimental and sew some off-set edges too.
When it comes to preparing your EPP shapes ready for sewing you first need to cut out your fabric so it is larger than the paper pieces.You can cut them roughly just using some fabric scissors or more accurately using a small quilting ruler and rotary cutter. It is really down to personal preference but I like the back of my projects to look almost as neat as the front so I prefer to accurately cut out each shape. I also find it easier to get an even seam allowance when using a ruler and rotary cutter and it is always important to have a decent amount of seam allowance, especially when you are making a “working” project like a quilt, so the seams don’t pull apart once the project is finished. A seam allowance between 1/4” and 3/8” is best for EPP; 1/4” is better for small shapes to avoid any unnecessary bulk and I find 3/8” better for fussy cutting and pattern matching because it gives a little bit more flexibility if you need to shift the papers slightly.
To cut your fabric place a paper piece onto the wrong side of the fabric, securing if with a dab of fabric glue or pin, then cut around the paper leaving your chosen seam allowance on all edges. Now you need to secure the paper piece to the fabric. Fold over the seam allowance on one edge and hold in place with glue or a large basting stitch (there will be more on the “great baste debate” next month!). Repeat on the other edges, basting in order moving around the shape rather than doing opposite sides first.
Time to Sew!
Unless your pattern tells you otherwise, it often doesn’t matter the order you sew together EPP shapes in a project but the way to sew them together is usually always the same:
Holding two shapes right sides together with one edge (including the corners) lined up neatly, start at one end and sew a few tiny stitches in the corner. Then continue along the edge using a tight whip stitch. Take care to catch only a small amount of fabric from both sides and don’t go through the paper pieces. You may need to fold some of the paper pieces to join all the edges; add an extra couple of stitches for strength when three corners join.
The Joys of EPP
So why is English paper piecing such a wonderful addition to your sewing repertoire?
It is very portable, a great scrap buster and although it is slow sewing, most EPP projects can be broken down into small chunks making it easier to handle and feel like a more manageable project.
See you next time for an in-depth look at thread and glue basting.
Which will be your favourite method?
You can find all Coffee Rings Studios English paper piecing patterns here.
And find some simple free patterns here.