English Paper Piecing Q & A

Q    What are the best fabrics to use? Are there any to avoid?

A    Patchwork weight cotton fabrics are perfect for EPP. Avoid anything that frays too much, anything that stretches and anything that is thick and bulky. The smaller the scale of patchwork the more important it is to use a fine but stable fabric. Having said that I love to work with silk which can ravel so I simply make the seam allowances a little more generous.

Q    Do you cut the papers yourself?

A    That depends! If the design involves lots of different shapes I probably draw it out on graph paper and cut the shapes out with scissors. There are lots of different graph papers available on the internet for you to print out on a home printer or you can buy them as sheets or pads from art shops. I have also discovered die-cut hexagons for sale online in a wide range of sizes – these are probably more accurate than my cutting out and certainly more convenient.

Q    Do you tack or glue the papers in place?

A    I always tack right through all layers of fabric and paper although I know some people prefer to just stitch through the fabric folds on the reverse of the patches at the corners of the shapes. If you were using a delicate fabric that showed needle holes it might be necessary to avoid stitching through the right side of the fabric but I’ve never had a problem even when working with silk.

Q    At what point do you take the papers out?

A    When an individual shape is completely surrounded on all sides by other stitched shapes it is possible to remove the paper from that central shape. This is helpful if the work is large as it means it becomes more flexible and easier to hold without the stiffness of the paper template. It also means the paper shape can be reused if it hasn’t been damaged.

Q    Do you think EPP combines well with other techniques in a single project?

A    If you think in terms of using the technique as a way to create a fabric it can be used as an applique motif. Laura and I have combined EPP with fabric painting, applique and embroidery to make book wraps.

Q    I’m new to English Paper Piecing, what would be the best shape to start with?

A    I think hexagons are the best shape to start with. They may seem complicated as they have six sides but this means the angles at the corners of the six sides are easy to deal with. Diamonds and some triangles involve more acute angles which are more tricky but perfectly doable with a little practice.

Q    What size shapes should I use?

A    The smaller the shape the greater the seam allowance on the back will be in relation to the area of the fabric visible on the right side of the work. It’s a good idea to sample different sizes of shape to see what you can manage comfortably before launching into a project. Sampling will show if the fabrics suit the size of the shape too. Bear in mind that the smaller the shapes, the more fabric will be used as so much of it ends up as seam allowances.

Q    What thread do you use?

A    The tacking of the fabrics to the papers can be any fine, strong thread. I use either a polyester or cotton thread and usually prefer a bright colour that is easy to spot when the tackings are ready to be removed. I don’t knot the thread when I’m tacking – I just leave a tail of thread at the beginning and make a back stitch at the end so that it pulls out really easily when the piecing Is complete. For the piecing I favour a polyester or cotton thread in a mid tone colour that won’t be too visible on the right side of the work. This is a technique that involves oversewing so no matter how tiny your stitches they will show more than a running stitch would.

When using lots of different colours of fabrics it’s obviously not possible to colour match the thread so I tend to use a mid value grey thread. If the fabric colours are more limited then I choose a thread colour that matches as closely as possible but tend to the darker values of those colours. For instance, if the patchwork was mostly blues but included dark, mid and light values of blue I would favour a mid to dark blue thread. Light threads show too much no matter how carefully you stitch!

Q    There are a lot of seams with small scale EPP, what is the best way to quilt it?

A    It really does depend on the size of the shapes. Traditionally patchwork is quilted a quarter of an inch inside all seams but this isn’t possible when the shape is small. That style of quilting also tends to throw the seam line into relief and this draws attention to the line of stitching which I don’t like. A flowing design that avoids the bulk of the seam allowances where shapes join works well. Curved lines of quilting look great as a contrast to the straight lines of the piecing. You could photograph or photocopy your patchwork and audition potential quilting designs by drawing over the images.

Q    EPP is quite time intensive, what do you think the best projects are to use?

A    Small scale EPP creates jewel like effects but might be impractical for large quilts in terms of the time involved unless you are prepared to make the commitment. It is beautiful in smaller items such as book covers, table mats, cushions and fabric covered boxes.

We hope you’ll be inspired to find out more about English paper piecing and the exciting creative potential that it offers. We’ve picked out a selection of our workshops and mini courses for you below.  As with all our classes, you’ll have instant, lifetime access to the videos and you can watch them as many times as you like. Click on any of the images below for more information and to get started!

Millefiore Patchwork

In this archive collection of 2 video workshops join Laura to design and piece and quilt your own millefiore or mosaic patchwork. This project is beautifully intricate, but surprisingly easy to design and sew following Laura’s simple steps.

Introduction to: English Paper Piecing

Discover how to sew geometric designs with English paper piecing. Laura guides you through the simple steps for this satisfying method of patchwork that works beautifully for piecing even small shapes with accuracy.

In the Mix: Hydrangea Quilt

English paper piecing can be quite a slow and time consuming process. Using smaller sections of EPP as part of a larger quilt is an idea full of potential. Combining techniques into a successful piece of work is one of our favourite challenges. Join Linda as she demonstrates how she’s mixed English paper piecing, painted fusible web and free machine quilting in a single small quilt.

To access this post, you must purchase In the Mix: Hydrangea Quilt.

Recycling Cards for Paper Piecing

Don’t bin those greetings cards. Re-purpose them for English paper piecing.

Designing with Honeycomb Grids

In this workshop Laura shows you how to explore different design ideas for piecing based on hexagonal grids. She’ll show you how to draw them using good old graph paper and a pen, but also with your iPad.

To access this post, you must purchase Designing with Honeycomb Grids.