Spotlight: Jess Finn, English Paper Piecing Designer

Fussy cut block for English Paper Piecing

Spotlight: Jess Finn, English Paper Piecing Designer

With makers on the move, it’s no surprise that the portable technique of English Paper Piecing (EPP) is on the rise, and Jess Finn is at the center of the movement. Her company, Paper Pieces, plays a major role, with templates, patterns and supplies – from renowned designer projects to free graph paper downloads to create your own original designs.

Jess Finn Headshot in front of Dear Jane
Jess in front of Dear Jane

For those who are unfamiliar with the technique, can you tell us a bit about English Paper Piecing?

EPP is one of the earlier forms of quilting, dating back to the early 1700’s! A form of hand sewing, you baste fabric around a piece of paper, then whip stitch those pieces together.

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How did you become interested in EPP?

During the 2011 show, I volunteered in the Paper Pieces booth at Paducah QuiltWeek. From the moment I stepped foot in the convention center, I was hooked!

Did you have a “gateway craft” as a kid? Which creative projects led you to the work you do today?

While we were on a road trip, my mom taught me how to crochet on my 21st birthday, and it definitely sparked my passion for creating with my hands. There’s something so satisfying about seeing a finished project that you stitched by hand!

Mums of Love quilt by Jess Finn
Mums of Love Quilt (6 years in the making!) that was quilted by Deborah Burville in Melbourne, Australia. We took the photo there when I went to pick it up!

Your company, Paper Pieces, is a prime source for EPP supplies and inspiration. Tell us about the company and how you became connected with it.

Well, this is a favorite story of mine! My husband, Max, grew up on the same street that was home to Paper Pieces for 15 years in Northern Illinois. So during summers and school breaks in college, he worked there. When Max and I both graduated from college, we both worked at Paper Pieces while hunting for jobs in our fields, then we loved it so much we decided to stick around! Then we jumped at the opportunity to relocate to Paducah, Kentucky, with the business about 6 years ago and we couldn’t be happier.

What do you most enjoy about creating with EPP?

I enjoy using EPP as an outlet for creativity and imagination, and I love how relaxing it is to sit and stitch.

Jess' current WIP: Kim's Glorious Garden adapted to use my treasured Tula Pink stash!
Tenderness Blocks (By Sharon Burgess /Lilabelle Lane Creations) that I Fussy Cut ((Fussy Cutting is probably my favorite part of EPP, I love the results))

When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?

I am working on improvising, but I am a quilter who does best with a plan! Measure twice, cut once…

Are you a “finisher”? How many UFOs do you think you have?

I wish I could call myself a finisher – but I have a LOT of orphan blocks. Mostly because we start quilts at work all the time. One day, I want to put them all into one big mismatched quilt.

Willyne Hammerstein and Jess Finn at the Nantes, France Quilt Show
Willyne Hammerstein and Jess Finn at the Nantes, France Quilt Show

How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?

I just converted my sewing room into a baby nursery, so my new sewing space is an absolute disaster and, sadly, it’s been a deterrent from sewing. But it’s on the ‘to do’ list!

What is your favorite storage tip for your fabric and creative supplies?

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our product called Mini Bolts! These reusable fabric organizers keep my stash organized and ready to play with. Best of all, they are acid free, so I know they will keep my precious stash safe from stains and moisture.

Part of Jess' personal fabric stash organized on Mini Bolts
Part of Jess’ personal fabric stash organized on Mini Bolts

What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?

My TJ Lane thimble, because I cannot stitch without it! Not only are they gorgeous, but they are custom made to fit your finger perfectly. So they are worth every penny!

TJ Lane Thimble
Jess & her TJ Lane thimble

What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?

Let’s say I’m a mixed media gal! After a rotary incident, I know better than to watch Netflix while cutting, so I listen to audiobooks. But I do enjoy watching TV while I stitch. So the best part of EPP is that I can do it from the comfort of my couch!!

When you travel, do you stitch on planes and in waiting areas? What is in your creative travel kit?

I have stitched my way around the world, quite literally, and I like to use Make Up bags for my sewing kits. And after losing my bag on a return flight from Australia, I will never leave home without a luggage tag on my sewing kit! So I had one custom made here.

Fussy cut block for English Paper Piecing
Jess’ current WIP: Kim’s Glorious Garden adapted to use my treasured Tula Pink stash!

Tell us about a challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?

I would have to say, without a doubt, that the hardest quilt I made was the Dear Jane quilt. Ms Jane Stickle used the TINIEST pieces, but we really enjoyed converting this into an approachable project with English Paper Piecing.

How do you stay organized when working with multiple design ideas and processes?

Since I am quarantined with a newborn, I currently keep a little project in each room where we sit and try to squeeze in some stitching when the little lady is napping.

Baby Austin on a EPP quilt

Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn? 

I wholeheartedly think creativity can be learned! English Paper Piecing is essentially putting together a puzzle. Once you get the hang of it, you can start stitching pieces together and create something unique and beautiful. The hard part is choosing fabrics!

If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?

I would love to meet “E.H.” from the 1718 Coverlet. It’s one of the oldest Paper Pieced quilts and the blocks are so interesting! Read more here: https://www.quiltmuseum.org.uk/collections/heritage/1718-coverlet.html

Jess Finn Quote

Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?

We have over 10,000 shapes and sizes on our site and strive to make quilting as easy and accessible as possible. We pride ourselves in customer service and celebrate the designers we work with from around the world! So from answering math questions, creating custom shapes, to sharing a giggle over missewn pieces – we hope our customers feel valued. After all, we wouldn’t be here without them!

Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?

I am currently taking a break from teaching and enjoying being a new mom, but I’m happy to have a chat with interested groups! I can be reached at jess@paperpieces.com.

Interview posted June 2020


Browse through more English Paper Piecing projects and inspiration on Create Whimsy.


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