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Intro to English Paper Piecing – Part 2 – Sewing Blocks Together

We’re back today with Part 2 of Faith Essenburg’s introduction to English Paper Piecing. Last week in Part 1 she discussed choosing fabric, tools, and glue-basting fabric to the template pieces. You can read Part 1 here. This week Faith will be talking about sewing the fabric-basted-templates together as well as the healthy therapy of hand sewing projects.

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Hi! It’s Faith again. I’m back to talk more about English Paper Piecing and I have a few tips on what works for me as well as thoughts on EPP sewing for therapy. 

How to Sew Together English Paper Pieced Quilt Blocks

There are so many different techniques for stitching together English Paper Pieces. I’ve had sewing days with friends and enjoy seeing what tricks and ideas each person has for getting the most invisible stitches. I think what works best in the end is what works for you. Finding that out is part of the learning process and can be fun to try different ways until you find what works for you.

I’ve got my go to Aurifil 80wt thread (their thinnest thread) in a coordinating or neutral color that will blend (hide) in between the individual pieces. I cut about 20-30 inches off. Too long and it tangles, too short and you are changing your thread often which is a least favorite part for me.

I double up my thread and knot it at the end, I like the feel of working with it doubled up, it’s still very thin but it feels more durable this way.

(Note from Amy – I use only one strand of thread so that my stitches are less visible. If you are a tugger and worried about breaking the lightweight thread as you stitch you my be more comfortable with the doubled up thread as in the photo. I have also recently discovered 15 weight straw needles – even thinner and more bendy and I really love them. You can read more about Engish Paper Piecing Supplies  – including templates, thread, needles, and fabric in Part 1. As Faith said – there are no hard fast rules – you can choose which stitches and supplies suit you best!)

Place basted fabric shapes right sides together, careful to line up the edges from end to end. Pinching the two shapes together, begin to whipstitch the edges of the fabric, spacing stitches about ⅛ inch apart give or take a bit, and catching just the fabric fold, not the paper. Your needle should glide over the top edge of the paper. This is where the thin, pliable straw needles make a big difference. You can also cover or tack down your thread ends with the whipstitches, hiding thread tails as you stitch.

Notice how the stitch/needle is straight (not at an angle) as it goes through the two different blocks. This will minimize the stitch visibility from the front once the pieces are all sewn together.

Starting at one inner edge, I work my way around the block, gradually adding the shapes, as I go. At some spots (such as a y-seam) you’ll need to fold the piece/cardboard template to sew edges together. This is normal (and to be expected) – and one of the benefits of using EPP piecing. It’s much easier to piece a complex quilt block with a variety of angles and sizes than trying to do it by machine.

My favorite EPP patterns are the ones that allow me to stitch continually without having to stop and knot and cut thread and pick up sewing again in another spot. It’s almost like a little bonus puzzle finding the route of least thread changing for me. When I do need to cut thread I knot and leave a tail about an inch long and then overlap my stitches with the new thread by a ¼ inch.

I think visible stitches are inevitable, at least for me and I’m ok with that. When I look at the design of the block or a finished EPP quilt, the stitches are not standing out to me. You’d have to get pretty close up to spot stitches and after all, isn’t that where the love gets sewn in?

If you would like a video demonstration (the more perspectives the better) of the stitching process you can find a video English Paper Piecing demonstration at Connecting Threads. Another great video resource is Sue Daley’s YouTube channel.

When you have finished piecing a block, press the block from the top (don’t press from the back if you used glue basting as it can make the glue more difficult to unstick.) Begin to carefully pull the fabric edges away from the paper templates so that you can remove the paper piece. If you are careful, you can preserve the templates to reuse them in future blocks.

In the case of this circle EPP block, remove all of the papers in preparation to applique the block to backing fabric. If you are making a EPP block that will then be pieced to another EPP block (like Andy’s large Dahlia blocks here) leave the papers in the outer edges of the block so that you can continue the process of whipstitching blocks together.

Handwork as Therapy

I think it goes without saying that last year was a rough year with lots of stress and changes for everyone. It’s in those really hard times that I feel extra thankful for this craft of mine. Creativity is such a gift of expression, and along with that can come this calming effect. Sewing up a traditional quilt from start to finish can be exhilarating and exciting, I can put on music and have an almost workout experience from it. 

Preparation tips for English Paper Piecing

Hand sewing is different, it takes slowing down and focusing on one small piece between your fingers. Most days last year I was not able to sit at my machine and sew. Quilting was too overwhelming and I simply did not have the energy for it. Hand sewing however was my go to calming method of craft.

When my mind would get overwhelmed and anxiety crept in making it hard to breathe, I could pick up my EPP and sew a few stitches. Some days it was literally one or two stitches, but those stitches stayed and I added to them the next day. Sometimes it took a whole month to stitch one small block which sounds sad but it’s not.

I remind myself that during some of the hardest times of my life, I was making something of beauty and some days that felt like the only beauty coming out of the mess. Other times when stress was running high, I could stitch up an entire block in one night while watching a show with my kids or listening to a book or talking with a friend. It was calming and therapeutic. Somehow taking that little bit of focus, centered on needle and fabric helped to calm the anxiety and my mind running with stress.

I’ve been sewing for almost 8 years now, at first it was a craft that was my only outlet that was just for me, being a stay at home mom I needed that. I needed to have something that could be done that would stay done, unlike the dishes or laundry or constantly feeding people. After a couple years my “craft” became my therapy as I struggled with the loss of my closest relationship. I remember days of sitting at my sewing machine late at night feeling so broken and all I could do was sew and cry. It was my safe space to go to when I was overwhelmed, I could set my little kids up with snacks and a movie and I could sew and let my pain and brokenness fall out in tears onto the fabric. I think that was the first time I realized that something of beauty could come from such pain, even if it was something as tangible as a quilt. Over the years sewing, both by hand and machine has been my go to therapy. I can’t always talk to my actual therapist but I can pick up needle and thread to calm myself and think things over stitch by stitch.

Something about the steady slow stitches, the rhythm of the needle moving through the thread, the motion of things coming together that weren’t there before, the grounding feel of the fabrics on your fingertips and the joy it all brings when you see something of beauty growing before your eyes, something you created. Even when it’s coming from a place of pain and anxiety, it’s a thing of beauty and it somehow becomes therapy.

Thank you Faith! I’m sure so many can relate to your experience. Sewing really is some healing therapy.  As a reminder  you can see more of Faith and her beautiful creations on Instagram and on her blog, Sarana Ave.

And in case you missed it, you can find Part 1 of How to Start English Paper Piecing Here.

For those who are looking for similar round EPP blocks, I’ve had a lot of fun making Sue Daley’s Round We Go blocks. Those templates and paper pieces are available from Gardenia Fabrics and Keepsake Quilting.

If you’re looking for more English Paper Piecing block and project ideas (I swear, the possibilities are endless) I have a growing EPP Pinboard of ideas here.

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