English paper piecing (EPP) is a perfect project to take with you on the go, or to keep hands busy on a creative project while watching TV. You start with small pieces of fabric that you attach to paper templates and then stitch the perfect pieces together to make a quilt, table runner or other project.
Looking for a great scrap busting projects? English paper piecing is a perfect way to use up those small scraps! Or plan a project with coordinating fabrics! Whichever you decide, you’ll find cutting, gluing and sewing these little pieces together addictive.
There are a lot of different ways and techniques to get to the final piece. We’ve got our favorite tips and tricks to make your English paper pieced project successful.
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Use good quality, pre-cut paper shapes that can be re-used multiple times
You can cut your own templates from heavy weight paper using either scissors or a punch, but it is really so much easier to buy the precut templates. Spend a few pennies more to buy from a reputable company, and not a no-name brand — having a higher quality paper and accurately cut pieces will make the project easier. Also, with higher quality paper, you can gently remove the paper after sewing your pieces together and reuse the template. So – in the long run it ends up being less expensive.
Buy the matching acrylic templates to cut your fabric. This will save time and make sure you have perfect seam allowances
If you are making a lot of pieces for a project, it is worth the investment to purchase the acrylic templates that pair with the paper templates you are using. You can choose templates with either a 1/4 or 3/8-inch seam allowance. Some stitchers prefer the smidge of extra fabric in a slightly wider seam to wrap around the paper pieces. Using the acrylic templates, you can use your rotary cutter and quickly cut exactly the right size fabric for perfect seam allowances for your little pieces.
Use a glue pen
You can sew baste your fabric around your paper template, or use a school glue stick, but it is much easier to purchase a glue pen specifically made for English paper piecing. The smaller glue surface on the end of the pen makes it easier to quickly glue the fabric to the paper and keep all of the glue within the seam allowance. The papers are easy to remove, and the glue pens made for fabric do not leave a sticky residue.
Store your glue pen in your refrigerator
When you aren’t actively working on attaching your fabric to the paper templates, store your glue pen in the refrigerator in a small zip lock bag. This keeps your pen fresh and from drying out so quickly.
Apply the glue just inside the edge of the paper, not on the edge
Applying the glue away from the edge of the paper allows the fabric to attach to the paper while keeping the area where you will sew free of glue. This helps you avoid two roadblocks to easy stitching: glue on the stitching edge can hinder your sewing and ‘gunk’ up your needle.
Finger press the fabric to the glue around the template in one direction — either clock-wise or counter-clock-wise
By having a method on how you finger press the fabric to the glue on the paper template, each piece is consistent, which makes it easier to next the corners together accurately when sewing.
Use a strong fine thread, like polyester or silk
When you stitch the templates together, you use very small stitches, close together. If you use a cotton thread, the thread might begin to shred. Using a strong fine thread makes your stitches less visible and the sewing process easier and less frustrating.
Sew with a thread length of about 18 – 20″
Keeping your thread shorter makes it easier to sew the templates together and minimizes shredding due to the repeated passes across the edge of the paper template. If you like to sew with few interruptions, thread several needles in advance so you can keep stitching.
Use a long fine needle so it is easier to do small stitches
The secret to a well stitched English paper pieced project is small, even stitches. A fine needle makes the small stitches easier, and a little longer needle length gives you more control.
Use quilting clips instead of pins to hold your shapes together
Quilting clips easily hold your basted templates together for stitching. Pins are not made to get through layers of paper and fabric and can distort your carefully prepared pieces; that will distort your quilt blocks. Quilting clips keep your pieces lined up correctly while you stitch, and they do not leave holes in the paper templates.
To minimize knots, thread your needle from the end that comes off the spool and use a thread conditioner
Nothing is more frustrating than to be sewing along and then a knot forms in your thread. You have to figure out if you can untangle the knot, somehow end the stitching, or unsew what you’ve done and start over. Learning this trick of which end to knot will help a lot of headaches! For added insurance, passing your thread through a thread conditioner keeps it supple and less likely to form knots.
And, lastly, a few tips for gluing the fabric around curved paper templates
When glue basting curves for English paper piecing, it is especially important to make sure that you leave a gap between the glue and the edge of your paper template. This allows the straight-woven fabric to ease into the curves.
Start with the concave (inner) curves. Clip the seam allowance, if necessary, stopping 1/8-inch from the stitching line. Add glue, then, a little at a time, smooth the fabric over the edge of the paper from front to back. Your index finger is a great tool for this step!
For convex (outer) curves, add glue, then bring the seam allowance from front to back as before, easing the fabric into a smooth edge. The excess fabric will form pleats near the cut edge – they will not show on the front as long as your edges are smooth.
Draw your finger along the basted edge. If you feel bumps, pull up that section, refresh the glue and reposition. For long curves, glue in sections to keep glue moist during placement.
What are your tips? Share them in the comments below!
Browse through more English paper piecing projects and inspiration on Create Whimsy.
Learn how to English Paper Piece with this table topper project on Create Whimsy.