English Paper Piecing: The basics

What is English Paper Piecing?

Also referred to as EPP, it is a traditional method of sewing fabric pieces together using paper and thread or glue. Fabric is wrapped around paper shapes then hand stitched together. EPP projects can be taken along with you to the couch, back porch or even on a road trip since you can pack all the tools you need in a small box or pouch.

Tools

Papers: Many EPP patterns come with printable shapes you can use and many also offer precut papers you can order. You can even make your own shapes! When you cut your fabric, be sure to remember to add ¼" to ⅜" extra on all sides so it can wrap around your shape. You can also find iron-on EPP shapes which do not need to be removed like regular papers do. I'll talk a little more about them later.

Fabric: EPP is a great way to use up scraps you've been saving up. Most EPP pieces are small and many are odd shapes so they are great for scrap busting. When you cut your fabric, be sure to remember to add ¼" to ⅜" extra on all sides. EPP is also wonderful for fussy cutting!

Glue: I love using a glue pen but you can also grab a regular glue stick.

Sewing Needles: The type and length of your needle is mostly personal preference. You can find the ones I like best HERE.

Thread: I might get picked up by the quilt police after saying this but I use whatever thread I have on hand! Some prefer polyester and some prefer cotton but it can be up to you to decide which you like best. In my tutorial I use Aurifil 100% cotton thread but I also have used Gutermann which is polyester. Check out this great breakdown on pros and cons of different threads by Maker Jayne HERE.

Optional (but helpful!) Tools:

Rotary Blade and Rotating Cutting Mat: These can help you cut your fabric a bit quicker (I recommend a 28mm blade) and a rotating mat will help ease your wrists from too much strain and may save a finger from a sharp rotary blade.

Acrylic Templates: Acrylic templates in the shape of you EPP pieces are very helpful for making accurate cuts and make cutting your fabric a bit faster. They also take the guesswork out of adding the extra ¼" to ⅜" around all sides since this will be built into the template already.

Wonder Clips: These handy clips help hold your pieces together while you stitch.

Thread Gloss: Running your thread through a little thread gloss helps fight against dreaded knots and nests while you sew.

Getting Started

First, we need to baste our fabric to our papers. I will be using iron-on papers and glue in this tutorial (my preferred method).

 

First let's iron on our papers! Take a paper and center it on the back of your fabric. These iron-on papers will have a shiny side (the glue side) and a matte side. Make sure you put them shiny side down!

Take a scrap piece of fabric and place it on top before pressing with a hot iron. This is the best way to ensure your paper stays centered. If you were to try and flip it over to iron the front, you might end up with a crooked paper.

Once you have a your papers ironed on, you are ready to baste!

Glue Basting

Glue basting is my preferred method. It is quick, easy and I can get to stitching my pieces together much faster.

Start with one side and add a little strip of glue to your paper. Fold the fabric over and press to the glue. Moving in one direction, continue to glue one side at a time and fold the fabric over until you are back to the beginning and all raw fabric edges are folded in.

How cute is he?!

Soon you'll have a big ole' stack of hexies to work with and you're ready to start stitching them together :)

Layout

I love scrappy and random but I am definitely more of a "planned random" type of stitcher. I guess that isn't really random then, is it? Haha! I like to lay out my hexagons and arrange them until I am happy. Then I bundle up my hexagons into little stacks for each "hexagon flower" I will be making (more on that below) before taking them on the road to do my stitching.

Hexagon Flower

When stitching many hexagons together, it is common to make "hexagon flowers" like this one then stitch those together to complete the project. This makes stitching a little more portable. Click HERE to see my step by step instructions for making a hexagon flower.

Stitching Hexagons Together

There are 2 commonly used methods of stitching EPP shapes together. Whipstitch and flat back stitch. Here I will show you how to do a simple whipstitch. Click HERE to see a comparison of these 2 stitches.

Take your first 2 pieces and sandwich them right sides together. I like to use a Wonder Clip to keep them in place. Take your threaded needle and start as close to the bottom edge as you can and make a knot. Stitch along the edge the whole length of that side and end with another knot at the top. With each stitch, try to push your needle through just a tiny bit of the fabric and not push through your paper. The less fabric you stitch through, the less visible your stitches will be and the flatter your project will lay.

 Continue to add hexies by visualizing how the next hexie will attach and aligning it with that edge. Place them right sides together to attach and stitch along the edge the same way as you did the first pair. As you add more hexies, you will have to fold over your project to correctly align the edges you are stitching. You can use a Wonder Clip to help hold it together as you sew.

Find more detailed instructions on how to stitch hexagons together HERE.

With the whipstitch method, your stitches will be slightly visible. If you don't care for this look, try the flat back stitch! Check out my comparison of the 2 HERE.

EPP is fun and relaxing and you can take it anywhere. It is a great way to unplug and create with your hands. You can use them to make a small project such as cute coasters or go big and make a whole quilt. 

My latest EPP project was this oversized placemat

I hope you learned a little something and I peaked your interest to give EPP a try! You can grab some basic supplies in my shop HERE or get everything you need to get started with my EPP starter pack HERE.

Have fun and happy EPP-ing! :)