The basic technique of English Paper Piecing is that of folding pieces of cut fabric over a paper template of a particular, usually geometric, shape (square, hexagon etc), which is then sewn to others of similar or complementary shapes, to make up a quilt block and subsequently a whole quilt. I won’t go into detail about the process here because there are so many helpful posts and videos on Utube and Pinterest showing you how to do it and also because some people like to do it slightly differently from others. I stick to the traditional way but shortcuts have been found that might suit you better. I feel it’s best to check out as many tutorials as you can and find your own way. However, if you have a question, please ask and I will try and help.
Here is a video clip from Sew Easy by Fons & Porter on Utube to give you a general idea about EPP as a technique. They are piecing hexagons which is the most popular EPP shape for beginners but if you get hooked you can tackle lots more shapes.
Advantages of EPP
- It is portable. You can sew while you watch television, sew while you sit on a park bench as your children play or sew on long car journeys. All you need is a small box to hold all your supplies.
- No specialist tools are necessary. All you really need to get started is a needle, thread, fabric and scrap paper.
- Fabric is folded over a precisely cut shape and so precision can be achieved more readily using this technique
- It lends itself to modern as well as to vintage fabrics.
- Inset seams are not a problem, your paper pieces don’t have to work with the grain of the fabric and small adjustments can easily be made as you go. Seam ripping, when necessary, is easy and projects where mistakes have been made, rarely need to be abandoned. Adjustments are easy without having to rip out everything.
- The paper pieces act as a stabiliser so that you don’t have to worry about stretching occurring along the bias edge.
- It’s simpler. Much less measuring is needed which is great for those of us, like me, who are not great with numbers.
- You don’t need a pattern to follow. You can work out what you need to do from a picture and just adjust the size to your liking. And it’s easy to create your own designs.
- Hand stitching is relaxing, therapeutic even.
- It is a technique that can be used to create applique motifs.
- Many different shapes can be used. Although the hexagon has become the most well known, many other shapes can be used, such as squares, rectangles and triangles, elongated hexagons (which include coffin shapes), half hexagons, pentagons (which include jewel shapes) diamonds, tumblers, octagons and curved shapes such as apple cores and clamshells. From my experiments I have found that almost any shape can be used. You can make a Crazy Quilt out of EPP shapes.
Disadvantages of EPP
I can’t think of many disadvantages…but then I’m biased!
- It is all done by hand.
- It looks different from machine work. I prefer the look of hand stitched work but others may not.
- The stitches can show, especially until you get more experiences. Some people don’t like this. There are ways of making the stitches less visible but this may be slower at first. Whipstitch is the stitch recommended for strength and durability but some people prefer ladder stitch because stitches are less visible. As you can see from the video above the trick with whipstitching is to catch a few stitches at the top only and not to dig down into the fabric and to “pull them snug” as they say. It help if you keep your nails pinching the fabric just above the paper piece inside, then your stitches can’t go lower.
- It is not fast. It is hand work, relaxing, therapeutic and takes the time it takes. You can make up time by being able to do it anywhere your sewing machine can’t go.
- Paper pieces need to be made or bought. (For a small amount of money buying your pieces does eliminate all the measuring, tracing and cutting involved in making your own templates and the purchased pieces can be reused several times over.)
- You can’t finish projects very fast. If you are someone who likes to whizz through projects over a weekend, EPP probably isn’t for you.
- Some shapes such as those on art quilts might be difficult
- You need to be clear about sizes of paper pieces. The size given refers to the length of the side of each shape. A one inch hexagon means each of its facets is one inch, not that it is one inch from side to side.