A year ago almost to the day, I discovered the wonderful world of English Paper Piecing (EPP). A relaxing and easy way to join fabrics together, EPP is a very creative form of hand-sewing. I published a post on the subject last November, in which I showed you how to make a hexie flower with embroidery. In today’s post, I will cover the basics of EPP in more details and show you all about cutting and basting various shapes.
If you’re here following my Tea Party Mini-Quilt stitch-along, this will be a good post to refer to if you’re new to EPP and aren’t sure how to get started. 😊 I will be turning February’s embroidery pattern into a little hexagon as part of this tutorial.
What is English Paper Piecing?
English Paper Piecing – commonly known as EPP – is a method of creating and assembling various shapes using fabric and paper. Often done entirely by hand, EPP allows you to arrange shapes one by one to create different designs. It’s often used in quilting and appliqué, or combined with embroidery to create a variety of lovely projects. It’s a really great way to use up small fabric scraps. With EPP, you begin by basting fabric to cardstock shapes, and then hand-sew them along the edges to create your design. The most shape commonto use is the hexagon, and “hexie flowers” are often made up of 7 hexagons pieced together. The hexagon is the best shape to start learning EPP, because its shape ensures clean edges when basting and piecing.
Materials & Tools
First, you’ll need basic hand-sewing supplies: a pair of sewing shears, some snips, pins, and a needle and thread. I like to use a small, sharp hand-sewing needle, and polyester or all-purpose thread. I also recommend using a thimble.
For fabric, you’ll want something woven and lightweight: quilting cotton is the best for this, but cotton and linen blends can also work. EPP is perfect for showing off pretty fabric prints and using up scraps. Of course, you use plain fabric too!
You’ll also want:
- Cardstock paper or pre-cut cardstock shapes
- Paper scissors
- Iron and ironing board (if you have a mini-iron, it’s really handy for this!)
- Paper hole puncher
- Optional: washable glue stick
Cutting Your Shapes
If you’ve never done EPP before, I recommend starting with hexagon shapes, about 1” to 1 1/4” in size. However, many other shapes can be used for EPP, so I will also show you how to cut and baste different ones.
Cut your shapes out of cardstock paper, exactly to size, without any allowance. You can follow a template like I’m doing above, or make up your own. You can also buy pre-cut cardstock shapes if you prefer!
Once the pieces are cut, I like to “true” them up to make sure they will fit nicely against each other. Simply arrange your shapes how you want them to be sewn together, and make sure that all the edges are well-aligned. Trim off a little excess paper if need be, so they will fit perfectly.
Once you are satisfied with the fit, punch a hole through each piece with a paper puncher. This is to make it easier to remove the paper later.
Cutting your Fabric
Now we are ready to cut the fabric that will cover the shapes! To do this, place your shape on the wrong side of the fabric of your choice. If using patterned fabric, you can do what’s called “fussy cutting” to show off pretty prints. This means that you are cutting around a specific motif on your fabric. If you’re turning an embroidery into a hexie for example, you’ll want to center it over your cardstock hexagon.
Pin in place, or dab a bit of washable glue stick to hold the cardstock to the fabric. I prefer to avoid using glue, so I pin mine. I do use a little piece of washi tape to stick to the cardstock and center the embroidery properly, but it will be removed later. For smaller pieces, I simply hold them in place with my hand while I cut the fabric.
Leave a ¼” seam allowance when you cut the fabric around your shapes. Don’t remove the pins yet!
Basting Your Shapes
The next step in the EPP process is to baste the fabric seam allowances to the cardstock shapes. If you’re working with hexagons, these are very easy to do, which is why I recommend starting with them.
First, thread a hand-sewing needle and keep it close by.
Working with the paper side facing you, fold one side of the seam allowance against the paper at one of the corners. Hold it in place and fold the next side down, creating a nice, clean corner.
Bring your needle through the fold, leaving a short tail, and take three stitches to secure the fold in place and save you from having to make a knot. Only stitch through the fabric.
Then, move on to the next corner, folding the seam allowances the same way as before. Carry the needle over and again take two or three stitches to secure the fold down. Again, you only need to go through the fabric when basting these corners. Take out the pin(s) when you feel the cardstock shape is secure.
Repeat until all the seam allowances have been basted and your hexagon looks like this:
How to Baste Other Shapes
For shapes such as triangles and diamonds, the idea is the same: leave ¼” SA when cutting your fabric, and then fold them inwards around the shape.
For very small pieces, it is easier to use glue to baste, but if you’re stubborn like me and don’t want to use glue, I recommend pressing down the seam allowances with an iron. If you have one of those mini-irons, they’re really handy for this! A regular iron will also work, but you’ll want to use a knitting needle or something to hold the fabric down instead of your fingers. I also recommend running some basting stitches across like this, if you find that it’s not holding its shape too well.
If one of the shape’s edges is longer than 1 ¼”, you’ll want to baste through the paper as well as the fabric. Instead of carrying your thread from one corner to the next, take a stitch through the fabric and paper around the half-way point. Repeat as many times as needed if you’re basting a very long edge.
Preparing to Assemble the Pieces
You’ll notice that these triangles and diamonds aren’t as neat and clean as the hexagons, and still have excess SA showing at the corners. That’s totally normal, and it’ll be dealt with when you sew the pieces together. For now, you can just ignore them, or iron/glue them to the wrong side. Don’t cut them away though, unless you really have too much excess.
Here’s what the piecing could look like, following the template pictured earlier, which is part of my Mini-Quilt stitch-along:
Stay tuned for my next EPP tutorial…
You can use your EPP shapes however you’d like; turn them into flowers or other motifs, use them for appliqué, or turn them into a mini-quilt! There are so many possibilities. I will have a future post showing you how to sew them together, but if you’re interested in hexagons and would like to make a “hexie flower”, you can find that post here.
If you’d like to participate in the Tea Party Mini-Quilt stitch-along, you can sign-up for my newsletter right here! I send out a free mini embroidery pattern each month this year, and turn the embroideries into hexagons that will eventually become a mini-quilt to hang on the wall. Of course, you can also use the embroidery patterns for any personal project you’d like!
I hope you enjoyed this post and that you’ll give EPP a try if you haven’t already. Cutting and basting is only the beginning, sewing everything together is so much fun. Warning though, it’s incredibly addictive, and you won’t be able to stop!