English Paper Piecing (EPP)

EPP, yes it sounds a little like the acronym for a strange, tropical illness but in reality it stands for English Paper Piecing. Or in other words, a way of forming a quilt top that involves wrapping fabric around carefully cut out paper shapes. In case you were wondering the ‘English’ part of the title apparently comes from the fact that us Brits loved it back in the day and we still love it now. There’s very few past times as tranquil as hand sewing some beautiful hand sculpted shapes together to form something that is even more beautiful than when you first began. That isn’t to say it isn’t without its trials and tribulations though but we’ll put those down as part of EPP’s charm.

EPP - Hexagon Template

So, where to begin….. well, grab yourself some fabric and lets embark on the wonderful journey that is English Paper Piecing.

  1. First things first, you’ll need some fabric. Any fabric. Bust your stash or go to town with some nice new fat quarters from your local fabric store (any excuse!). You’ll also need some paper templates (try http://moxyideas.com/downloads/), paper clips, good quality thread such as Guttermans and scissors.      
  2. After  super carefully cutting out the templates, lay one on your chosen fabric (keeping the fabric the wrong side up) and cut around the template, leaving approximately 1/4″ hem. Fold the edges of the fabric over the edges of the template one by one, securing each edge with a paper clip as you go.

    Front View

    Back View


  3. Once step 2 has been completed for a few of the shapes you can start arranging them in the pattern you prefer.
  4. Ideally you want your joining stitches to be practically invisible so we’re going to use the ladder stitch as a way of connecting the shapes. Ladder stitch (also known as slip stitch) is normally used for joining seams on things such as soft toys so its strong plus you can hardly see it. To work the ladder stitch, begin by holding the two shapes right side to right side. The folded edges of the fabric will provide a nice straight line for you to guide your stitches along. To hide the knot of your thread, push the needle up from under one of the folded edges and pull it through the fabric until the knot is hidden.
  5. Take the needle across to the opposite side, push the needle through both top edges being really careful not to catch the paper inside. Pull the thread tight but not overly tight. Tension is important in this stitch, too tight and the fabric will pucker but too loose and you’ll be able to see the stitch which is not what we want.

    Hold the shapes firmly together and work the needle along the inside edge.

  6. Go back to the other side and work the needle back under the fabric but instead of going through to the next shape, push the needle along the inside edge and then out on the same side to create a tiny little stitch under the fabric. Once the needle is back out then take it to the other shape and and repeat the process. Every time the new stitch will start just up from the previous one but on the opposite side. If you keep the stitches running along the edge then you’ll get the neat join that we’re aiming for. Remember that if the edge is neat then joining the next shape to it will be a piece of cake.

    The stitch should be practically invisible

    Make every edge a neat edge!

  7. Keep repeating this until you get to the end of the edge. Give the thread a final pull to ensure its as tight as it can be (without being overly tight!). Secure by pushing the needle through the edge of both shapes. Do this twice in the same place and cut the thread. Don’t remove the paper templates until a shape has been joined to another on all sides, that way the fabric will keep its shape.
  8. Ta Da! Your first two shapes are securely joined and you’ve earned yourself a nice sit down with a cream eclair and a cup of tea. Well, you could OR you could just keep going. Let your imagination run riot and keep adding shapes until your thumbs are giddy with the sheer excitement of it all 🙂 Before you know it, you’ll have a quilt top or a cushion cover or a bag or ….. whatever you make will be wonderful I promise!

Back view of EPP

Final step ….. don’t worry about the back too much, nobody ever said the back wasn’t going to be messy!









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