English Paper Piecing - Where do I start?
English Paper Piecing (EPP) was the very first type of quilting I tried, as is often the case with many because it's 'easy' - I never took this to be literal, but more from the point of view that it wasn't sewing machine based so there was less to learn and feel intimidated by. I'm not entirely convinced that it's true, there is still quite a lot to learn and where do you start?
So here are my thoughts on EPP and how to get started - I'm not an expert, it's just something I absolutely LOVE to do! (which you'll know if you follow me on Instagram) I'm often asked all sorts of questions via social media, emails, messages etc so I thought I'd pop them all down here for you to read and refer to as and when. We'll call this Part 1 as there's a lot to get through and it can be quite overwhelming!
What is English Paper Piecing?
English paper piecing in its most basic explanation is the process of wrapping pieces of fabric around paper shapes. The process allows the shapes to be very crisp making them much easier to sew together by hand. Once sewn, the papers can be removed and a beautiful piece of patchwork is left ready to be made into all manner of wonderful things - full quilts, mini quilts, cushions, bags, jackets or anything else you can think of.
Patterns or Freestyle?
Earlier this year I released my first EPP pattern Solar Prism, it's still a pinch me moment when I see other people making it and tagging me in their posts! It only uses 4 shapes and is beginner friendly, the block can be repeated as many times as you like to make quilts of varying sizes, you can stick to one block and make a mini quilt or a cushion - the possibilities are endless.
There are so many wonderful designers with absolutely beautiful patterns out there for EPP the struggle is real! I'm very lucky to pattern test for the brilliantly talented Liz who owns Indie Hipster Quilts, I've been testing patterns for a couple of years now and feel blessed to call her my friend.
The first pattern I tested was Vignette, I wanted to create a rainbow (obvs) and decided to make it entirely out of Liberty Tana Lawn and Art Gallery Pure Solids because they have a similar weight and feel to them. My Liberty stash has been collected from various places but all my Art Gallery purchases come from Cow and Giraffe.
I couldn't love this quilt any more, it's full of beautiful prints, it's rainbowtastic, it's well travelled and so full of memories. At the time of writing this post I have now finished all the blocks so that gap is gone! I've just got the 3 big seams to sew the rows together and she will be finished. The biggest EPP project I've done to date but certainly not the last - I've already started planning out the next one!
However, if freestyle is more your thing it really is an easy option with EPP - you can download hexagons, squares, diamonds, triangles etc just by doing a quick Google search for 'EPP downloadable shapes' and then simply spend some time playing with them to see how they fit together. It's up to you to decide on scale so you can use shapes as big or as small as you like. It's worth noting that the bigger the shape, the more quickly your project will come together, but this will of course require larger amounts of fabric and thread.
Papers and Templates
You will need both paper pieces and templates for EPP and both are readily available from many places. My personal go to UK shops when buying singular shapes are Lina Patchwork or Sew & Quilt - if you can't find it in one, you'll find it in the other.
You can of course create your own at home. Paper pieces do not need seam allowance you would simply print and cut them out (using paper scissors!) to the size you wanted. In EPP the size of the shape refers to the fact that shapes are measured and defined by one singular measurement usually along one edge - so a 2" Hexagon means that each individual edge measures 2" and not its diameter.
It's best to use a thicker paper such as 120gsm, this is because you will use the papers several times over so they will last longer and being thicker will make it easy to follow the outline of the shape when basting fabrics to it.
The paper pieces will go inside the fabric, so your fabric needs to be cut a little bigger in order to wrap around the paper shape and create neat crisp edges. You only need to create one larger template for each shape that you will then use to cut your fabrics. I use clear plastic - helpfully called Template Plastic, to make my templates from and again this is very easily found in Hobbycraft or on Amazon.
I prefer using this to card because you can use it with a rotary cutter more easily and it's completely see through so it's much better for fussy cutting and fabric placement in general.
I cannot stress this enough - cutting with accuracy is really important - it will affect everything! If your shapes are wonky they will not fit together well and it will throw your seams completely out.
Fabric and Thread
My favourite things!
There is no right or wrong (you know we don't tolerate the quilt police here!) it really does just come down to personal choice and preference.
In terms of fabric, as you are stitching by hand, something with an open weave is much easier to work with and get your needle through smoothly - quilting cotton or Tana Lawn are both excellent for this reason. That's not to say you can't use a velvet you've been saving for something special, just be aware that it might not be easy to handle or sew in this way.
The same can also be said about thread, every person you ask will probably have a different favourite brand or weight - the key things are it needs to be strong and fine. My personal favourite is Aurifil 80wt, I've written a blog post about that here and a post about Aurifil thread in general here.
One of the many things I love about Aurifil 80wt is the variety of colours - currently 88 different shades of beautiful! It is such a fine thread that my stitches literally disappear, especially when I colour match to the most dominant colour in the fabric I'm using.
A neutral colour that can be used with everything is a very popular choice for EPP and something I also do depending on the project/block I'm working on. It's often more cost effective if working on a large quilt, so this is something to consider as well when making your choices.
Basting - stitches or glue?
You've got your paper shapes and your fabric cut, now what? You'll need to secure the fabrics to the paper shapes before you can start sewing them together - we call this Basting.
There are 2 methods to do this, you can either use large basting stitches which are removed afterwards or you can use fabric glue. I personally use a Sewline fabric glue pen, it's one of the staples in my sewing bag, you can read all about that here.
Glue basting is much quicker than thread basting which is why I prefer it, but there is something quite therapeutic about thread basting and both options have the same end result.
I will continue to share my love of EPP with you in future posts, do let me know if there is something in particular you would like me to cover. The Aurifil Artisan Challenge for this month was to use 80wt thread in a project and I've absolutely loved it! My Vignette is so so nearly finished - be on the look out and be prepared for some serious quilt spam!