I’ve enjoyed English Paper Piecing for years. For me, it’s relaxing (and fun!), plus it’s always nice to have a portable hand-sewing project. I am excited to have Faith Essenburg as a guest to share part 1 of an Introduction to English Paper-Piecing. Faith is a talented quilter and paper-piecer.
For part 1 she’ll be sharing thoughts about choosing fabric and supplies. Part 2 is available here and goes into more detail about English Paper Piecing sewing techniques.
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Hi, I’m Faith. English Paper Piecing (or EPP for short) has become a love of mine over the past few years. I now make it a priority to have one EPP project going so I always have something ready for those moments that just call for hand sewing.
I am currently working on my third English Paper Pieced quilt, for anyone who doesn’t know about EPP, it’s a traditional method of hand sewing pieces together that hold their shape by being secured to paper pieces using either glue or thread. Once the quilt top is finished, papers are removed and the quilt can be finished as you would any quilt.
My friends at Ava & Neve sent me a kit to make the new Sunshiny Day Quilt from Tales of Cloth. At first glance I was intimidated by all the tiny pieces but it really makes them sew up very quickly which is a lot of fun.
When making quilts I don’t always have the freedom to choose my own fabrics, I often make using a specific line or end up choosing a small selection from one designer. I can’t complain but knowing I could choose any fabrics for this quilt felt a bit overwhelming and exciting all at once.
I started with a pull of about 12 Liberty fabrics that all played well together and I made my first few blocks.
Next, in true maker form, I panicked that I wouldn’t have enough fabrics to work with and proceeded to pull all the fabrics from my stash that I felt played even remotely well together.
It was a beautiful pull to be sure, but I really just loved those first few blocks I had made in a very specific color range of saturated red, blue, yellow and green. So I narrowed down my color palette to that range. And, I did what any level headed quilter would do in those colors: I bought more fabric. And two of my dear friends sent me pieces I couldn’t find from their own stashes, the sweetest of friends.
Once I had all those fabrics together, it absolutely made me smile feeling so pleased with where this quilt was heading.
I keep my fabric pull sitting on my desk laid out and once or twice a week I pull fabric combos for a handful of blocks. I can’t tell you what’s more fun, playing with the fabrics or actually sewing them together.
(If you’re ever looking for Liberty Lawn fabrics, some good resources in the US are DuckaDilly, SewingRoomBirmingham, Polkadot Secrets, and other shops on Etsy. Canada: Studio 39. Australia: Ava & Neve and Amitie Textiles.)
You can EPP with traditional quilter’s cotton fabric, but working with lightweight Lawn is extra nice because its easily moldable to the paper templates and silky smooth to sew through.
The great thing about English Paper Piecing is that no block is too complex. Using the pre-cut paper templates makes perfectly piecing intricate blocks with small pieces much more feasible and relaxing.
For my block I’m using templates from Tales of Cloth in Australia. [Post edit from Amy: These specific templates are no longer available. 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.]
Once I’ve got just the right 3-4 fabrics combination chosen for a particular block, I cut the shapes using a ruler or acrylic template and a small rotary cutter that’s just the right size for cutting small shapes. (I use a 28mm from Clover. Olfa makes a 28 mm rotary cutter as well.) I lay the paper template on the fabric and use my ruler to cut a ¼″ away from the edge of the template.
Once in a while I fussy cut birds or flowers but I usually try to be thrifty with my precious Liberty fabrics and use every last bit I can. I’m also a bit lazy (or genius?) and often fold fabrics over to cut two shapes at one time, I think it’s pretty smart since cutting isn’t my favorite part.
Basting Fabrics and Preparing for Piecing
Basting your fabric to the paper shapes is an important step in preparing to hand-piece your blocks. This is what gives your block pieces their accurate and perfect size and shape.
I am a glue baster and I find it much quicker than thread basting. A simple Elmers glue stick works really well without the cost of some other brands. I’ve also found if I glue close to the edge of my papers but not ON the edge, the fabric is secure and the needle goes through the edge of the fabric much smoother than if it’s getting stuck in glue along the edge. Let’s just say my first EPP quilt was a bit of a sticky mess.
Streamlining the process is a timesaver when preparing your blocks. For each block I do all of my cutting at once and then baste the fabric to the templates as my next step. I use Wonder Clips to keep my shapes and cut fabrics organized together until I’m ready to glue them.
Once glue basted, I keep the pieces for each block in small ziplock bags so they are ready to sew up whenever there’s a window for hand sewing. I try to keep a few blocks handy and ready to sew in a spot next to the couch along with a small scissors, my favorite Aurifil 80wt thread in a neutral color and a size 11 milliners needle (sometimes called Straw needles) all at the ready.
Fun fabric pulls and handy tools aside, English Paper Piecing holds a special place in my maker heart for another reason; sewing therapy at its absolute best. I’ll be back next week talking about EPP for therapy as well as my sewing techniques.