English paper piecing, also known as EPP, is a unique way of constructing quilts by hand. It is an old technique that has been revived for these times when we need a quiet, creative outlet that doesn’t require an electrical connection. Because EPP is powered by you, it is a perfect hand project for travel or just sitting outside or in a comfy chair. Work on your project a little bit at a time, or get caught up for hours in the meditative nature of the technique. Very traditional pieced quilts can be made in this method, as well as many of today’s modern quilt designs. We’ve rounded up our favorite English Paper Piecing Provisions to get you started, or help you up your EPP game.
For an introduction to the technique, check out English Paper Pieced Flower Garden for a quick how-to.
To get started with English Paper Piecing, you don’t need a lot of complicated supplies, but there are some basics you will want to have nearby. As with anything, the right tools can make all the difference in a successful project. So we’ve rounded up some of our favorite books, patterns, templates, needles, glue, organizers and more. See what appeals to you, and have fun. They have made EPP a joy for us, and we hope you will love it just as much as we do!
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EPP Tools & Supplies
The right tool for the right job makes all the difference. You know that to be true for any passion you pursue. It’s no different for English Paper Piecing. While many of the usual supplies may already reside in your studio, a few items may be new to you.
Did you have fun playing with the hexagon graph paper? Now you can start piecing with 1″ Hexagon Paper Templates. This is a good size and shape to start with if you are new to the EPP technique. Because the shapes do not have sharp points, they go together without much fussing. The uniform size gives you the confidence of knowing that everything will fit. They are small enough to stitch quickly, but are big enough to give you something to hold on to.
If you want to get started with a curated set of supplies, take a look at the English Paper Piecing Starter Pack from Paper Pieces. With instructions, hexagon papers, needles, thread, glue, mini-scissors, clips – even fabric – you will have everything you need to get started. It’s a great little package to have with you on the bus or while enjoying a latte. It would be fun to gather with like-minded friends for a stitch-along.
When you start fussy cutting, you’ll see just how magical the Marti Michell Folding Magic Mirror is! Printed fabrics hold all kinds of secret designs just waiting for discovery. With the mirror set at the same angle as your template, it will reveal a new kaleidoscopic effect with every move, guiding you to precision piecing.
If you just can’t stop piecing 1-inch hexagons, you may want to explore a faster way to cut fabric! The Acrylic Fabric Cutting 1-inch Hexagon Template includes a ⅜-inch seam allowance, which works well for turning the edges and stitching. You can stack fabrics and cut several precise hexagons at a time.
For cutting around acrylic template shapes, consider a Fiskars 8-inch Rotating Mat. Like other mats, it’s self-healing, and you can rotate it rather than your whole body to cut all sides of your template accurately and safely. This mat is compact and lightweight, fitting nicely into your project bag for class or travel.
For efficient fabric cutting of Tula Pink’s Tula Nova pattern (see above), this set of Tula Nova Acrylic Templates will ensure that all of your shapes and sizes go together perfectly, especially if you are fussy cutting any pieces. Because you can see through the templates, you know exactly where to position your motif.
The Tula Sunrise pattern (see above) lends itself to stacking fabrics to cut repeated shapes. The Tula Sunrise Acrylic Templates will help you get all of the angles and seam allowances just right, piece after piece. Keep your stripes going the way you want when you can see the fabric through the template before cutting.
The stars and hexagons in the Tula’s Bloomers pattern (see above) are made up from a variety of shapes. They will be easier to cut with Tula’s Bloomers Acrylic Templates. They are engineered to help you put the puzzle pieces of the pattern together. You’ll have fun arranging these components!
While you can use your full-size rotary cutter to cut around EPP acrylic templates, a 28mm Rotary Cutter is a safer choice. EPP templates are usually smaller than standard quilting rulers, so your fingers may be closer to the moving blade. A smaller rotary cutter gives you better visibility and control, keeping your cutting safer.
The classic method of basting fabric to the paper foundations is with needle and thread. It’s tried and true and works beautifully, but glue basting is faster and you don’t have any stray threads to remove later. Sewline Fabric Glue Pen and Refills (you’ll be glad you have refills) are the perfect width for EPP seam allowances. The glue holds until you remove it by simply pulling up on the edges. It doesn’t leave a sticky residue when it releases – you can reuse the papers several times. It’s water soluble, so it rinses away when you finish your quilt.
Milliners (sometimes called “straw”) needles are great for EPP. John James Gold Eye Milliners Needles are long enough to hold onto and thin enough to glide through the fabric as you stitch. We like size 11 English needles – they take a “just right” bite of fabric without making a hole that is any larger than necessary. The slightly larger size 10 will work, too, if you are more comfortable with that size.
When it comes to thread, there are lots of opinions! You want it to be strong enough to hold the pieces together after all that stitching, but you don’t want it to show, either. Lots of English Paper Piecers are moving to bobbin-weight synthetic threads for their relative strength. The Invisafil Thread Assortment by Wonderfil is 100-wt thread – a very fine thread. This assortment has a range of values in neutral colors that will blend with just about any fabric.
If you prefer cotton and like to closely match bright thread and fabric colors, MasterPiece Super Bobs Pre-Wound Bobbins give you an assortment of 25 colors in 50-wt 2-ply long-staple Egyptian cotton. Compact enough for travel, this is also a great thing to have in an appliqué kit.
How are you at threading needles? It’s not as easy as it used to be! But the Clover Desk Needle Threader prevents all the the dread and frustration, threading needles – even size 11 milliner’s needles – easily. Don’t leave home without it – especially if you sew on airplanes or in other moving vehicles. Turbulence? No problem!
With any hand sewing, when thread tangles and knots, it heaps on frustration. A thread conditioner such as Thread Magic solves the problem. Really. English Paper Piecing can be hard on thread as it repeatedly passes over the edge of the paper shapes. Thread Magic keeps the thread soft, flexible and strong. It’s not sticky and doesn’t crumble like beeswax. Great for any hand sewing, and beadweaving, too.
Pins do not work well for English Paper Piecing. Pinning through fabric and papers distorts the shapes you have worked so hard to maintain. Fortunately there are a couple of wonderful substitutes. Mini Wonder Clips secure the edges of your pieces while you stitch the seam. The clips’ tapered ends allow you to get farther into corners while maintaining the hold.
Sew-Tites Magnetic Pins are a new product that holds pieces together securely while keeping the entire length of the seam visible for stitching. Once you have your pieces secured with the magnets, they do not shift, so your stitches go exactly where you want them.
When tracing around pieces for scissor cutting, you want marks that you can see, but will disappear when you no longer need them. Frixion Pens provide a visible fine line that goes away with heat, such as from an iron. With any fabric marker, you should test on a scrap to make sure the marks truly disappear. Fabrics and conditions can vary, and sometimes marks leave a ghost image or reappear. So test, please! These are awesome for marking a cutting line that will not be visible on the finished project.
To mark on dark fabrics, the Clover White Marking Pen is a favorite. It, too, erases with heat, and also washes away. It takes a little getting used to, as the “ink” comes out clear, then dries to a crisp white line. So you may think it’s not working at first. Get it started on an inconspicuous corner so you can see how it reacts with your fabric. And, test, please.
How do you move a cutting template from one position to another on your fabric to ensure accurate fussy cutting? One way is with Dry Erase Markers. When you find the motif you want to repeat, mark placement clues on the acrylic template so that you can place it in the identical position for the next cut. The marks wipe away, and you’re ready for your next fussy cut!
Sharp fabric scissors are a quilter’s best friend, and 6-inch Perfect Scissors are a good all-around choice for English Paper Piecing. They are sharp all the way to the tip and are just the right size to do double duty snipping threads and cutting fabric shapes.
Sometimes, a little help from your friends can help turn the seam allowance over the edge of your paper foundation shape. A Stiletto and Press Bar lets you get under the edge of the fabric to turn the seam, and then smooth the edges to a nice, crisp fold for accurate piecing.
Project organizers are such personal choices. Do you like to keep everything in one place? Do you prefer to keep components in separate containers? It’s not one-size-fits-all, so think about your style and the way you like to work.
The Luxja Sewing Accessories Organizer comes in 3 sizes, 3 configurations and 3 colors to meet a variety of needs. The zippered nylon bags have padded lining, adjustable soft dividers and interior zipper compartments to keep everything organized.
For a case that holds completed quilt blocks as well as tools, the Dritz OmniGear Project Case might be a good choice. With a sturdy fabric cover and a rigid frame, contents stay safe. Transport with a detachable, adjustable shoulder strap or built-in handles.
The removable zipper pouches give the Yazzii Large Organizer a lot of versatility. You can grab just one pouch to keep a small project in your handbag, or keep all of your project components organized and together. The pouches have clear vinyl windows, so you can grab what you need with a glance. The poly/cotton cover is washable and stitchable, so you can customize it with a bit of appliqué, beads or embroidery – even an EPP patch!
For those who travel light, the Yazzii Project Pouch is a foldable clutch-style bag with zippered compartments for storage. With several bright colors to choose from, this can be a fun way to organize!
If you’re ready to move on from plopping things in sandwich bags, but aren’t sure if you’re ready for a “system”, try a set of Zipper Mesh Pouches. They keep moisture out, let you see what’s inside and don’t break the bank. Organize by function (thread/needles/threader; scissors/snips; glue/refills/stiletto), by color or by shape. With their uniform size and colorful zippers, you’ll look super organized! And you get enough to share – tame those SD cards, phone chargers and the kids’ markers.
EPP Books & Patterns
Inspiration abounds! So many ideas. So little time. Looking at what others have done can help you focus on the direction you want to go. So take a deep breath, grab a beverage and browse a bit to see what catches your fancy.
If you like to start with a little history (and some serious how-did-she-do-that eye candy), you will want to know about Lucy Boston. In The Patchworks of Lucy Boston, her daughter-in-law Diana Boston documents Lucy’s prolific patchwork, all done by hand during the winter months when she could not tend to her English garden. She continued to piece quilts, with 20 stitches per inch by the way, well into her nineties! Her Patchwork of the Crosses is a popular pattern today.
Hexies are classic shapes for English Paper Piecing, and they are fun to design with. If you like to go your own way, the Quilt Design Notebook, filled with hex graph paper, awaits your imagination and the clever color placement of colored pencils or markers. It’s just paper, so experiment away, coming up with your own repeating patterns or several big focal designs.
Ready to branch out from the hexagon? History and instruction are brought together in An English Paper-Pieced Sampler with instructions for blocks like Bow Tie, Apple Core, and Castle Wall. Teresa Justice and Darlene Beltman review fundamentals for English Paper Piecing and show you how to make your own paper templates. Sometimes your local paper crafts store has a die cutter available for customer use to make quick work of template cutting!
For fascinating optical illusions and secondary designs, fussy cutting is full of opportunities. In Flossie Teacake’s Guide to English Paper Piecing, Florence Knapp starts with the basics, then shows you how to achieve eye-popping effects with careful motif placement. Hint: It’s all done with mirrors!
When is a hexagon more than a hexagon? When Katja Marek uses a variety of basic shapes to build hexagons in The New Hexagon 2. Katja likes to speed up the process with pre-cut paper templates and glue basting to allow more time for playing with the potential of the simple hexagon. But if you like to make your own templates, no worries – Katja includes all the patterns.
Take your fussy cutting skills from hexagons to stars, clamshells (yes, curves!) and more in Quilting On the Go: English Paper Piecing by Sharon Burgess. Not sure you’re ready to commit? Sharon includes small projects to test the waters before you tackle a big quilt. And she goes over options for quilting your project, too.
In All Points Patchwork, Diane Gilleland explores a variety of approaches to a variety of shapes used in a variety of projects. Scissors or rotary cutter? To pin or not to pin? Whip stitch vs ladder stitch? Diane encourages you to design your own patterns and shows you how.
Tula Pink is well known for her fabric and quilt designs. These days, among her other endeavors, she designs intricate patterns for English Paper Piecing. With all the different shapes in her designs, organizing all the supplies could be daunting. Fortunately, Tula’s pattern packs include all the paper templates needed, as well as the pattern and instructions.
Mandala designs are striking, and the Tula Nova Pattern Pack is no exception! There are lots of different shapes to keep track of, but if you make the center block first, then work in the round, this is a very doable quilt that looks spectacular! Take care when placing directional fabrics so that everything points the way you want it to!
If repeated blocks laid out in a grid are more your style, the Tula Sunrise Pattern Pack might be more to your liking. You can make your sunny suns all the same or, as Tula has done, make each one different to reflect the new day that each one represents. The cornerstone stars and pennant border point to the colorful sunbursts.
With paper templates designed so that you can customize the flower centers, the Tula’s Bloomers Pattern Pack is reminiscent of the traditional Grandmother’s Flower Garden pattern. But the star points radiating from the centers make the petals stand out to create a secondary pattern in the background, hinting at the Seven Sisters pattern. A great way to include two patterns in one quilt!
With her modern esthetic, Violet Craft designs patterns for English Paper Piecing that don’t look like typical EPP quilts. First, her subject matter is fanciful and recognizable, especially her animal designs. Violet’s patterns include reusable templates that are clearly marked for fabric selection and placement in the quilt.
Who doesn’t love a peacock? Since we all know what that fancy tail looks like, Violet focuses on the face for The Peacock. The background shapes hint at the magnificent tail without distracting from the peacock’s face and topknot.
This king of the jungle has an impressive colorful mane surrounding the noble face of The Lion. Imagine a sunset safari with the glow of the sky creating a halo of light around the majestic creature.
Who is that? (Sorry – couldn’t resist.) The Barn Owl may not be as exotic as the peacock or the lion, but it certainly lets you know that it’s nearby. The repeated shapes in the background are meditative to stitch while the owl eyes keep watch.
Browse through all of the English Paper Piecing inspiration and projects on Create Whimsy.