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Getting Ready for English Paper Piecing

English Paper Piecing Tutorial: Part III
Getting Your Pieces Ready

Welcome to Part 3 of my English paper piecing tutorial.  I apologize for taking so long to get this post out.  You know that expression "when it rains, it pours?" Well, life has been pouring of late, complete with holidays, a toddler birthday, and a wicked cold.  But I'm finally getting time to sit down and get this tutorial together, and I'm excited, because that brings us another step closer to the actual steps for sewing together your pieces (next tutorial).  I'm also working on a project that should be easy for beginner English paper piecers so that you can try out your new skills!  But first things first!

Getting your pieces ready is super easy and, like the sewing, can be done just about anywhere. You'll need your paper pieces, fabric, scissors or rotary cutter, and (if you decide to glue baste) a glue stick.  Other miscellaneous tools may come in to play depending on how you go about cutting your fabric, but for the most part, it doesn't take much to get started. (If you don't know what kinds of tools you need to get started with EPP, please see my previous post on putting your kit together.)

The key difference between EPP and traditional quilting is the use of paper (typically a thicker weight like card stock), which stabilizes the fabric while you hand sew the pieces together.  You'll need to decide what pattern/shape you're going to use. Then you'll need to decide how you're going to acquire them.

If I'm doing a complicated pattern with a variety of shapes, or if I'm using a shape that's not easy to make myself, I'll usually buy them from an online retailer or a local quilt shop (though many shops don't stock English paper piecing supplies).

However, one shape that's easy to buy or make yourself is the hexagon.  There are a lot of possibilities using this basic shape, including the traditional Grandmother's Flower Garden.  If you're planning to make a quilt using hexies, it may be worth investing in a Fiskars punch. Last I checked, they come in three sizes.

A quick side note about paper sizes.  Some crafters (e.g. scrapbookers) measure papers across their widest point to get the measurement.  (See photo above.) However, those who do EPP typically measure along one side.  So be careful when buying a punch that states a specific size.  It may not be what you think it is.  See if there's a diagram on the package indicating "actual size" so that you can measure it.

Cutting Your Fabric
Once you have your papers cut out, it's time to get the fabric cut to size so that it can be basted to the papers.  For this, you'll either need good fabric scissors or a rotary cutter and mat.  You may also want to have a template (or ruler that has eighths for measuring your seam allowance).  They're not required, but they do make the work a little easier.

In traditional quilting, a 1/4" is considered the appropriate seam allowance.  You may also use the same in English paper piecing -- but remember, you're going to be basting the fabric to the paper temporarily, which means folding the fabric over along the edges of the paper. Just a smidge of extra space will be going in that fold, which means you may end up with less than a full 1/4" seam allowance. This is by no means a deal breaker.  Some people prefer to keep everything at a 1/4", but I've found that I prefer a 3/8" seam allowance.  It gives you just a little bit of extra breathing room.

There are a few ways you can cut your fabric.  You can place your template on the "pretty side" of the fabric and use your rotary cutter to cut around the outside.  (This is the best method if you're fussy cutting...more on this in a future tutorial).  You can buy your templates in stores and from online retailers.  You can also make your own using template plastic, but the acrylic ones are much sturdier and worth the investment if you're going to be doing a lot of fussy cutting.  Another plus with using templates: you can cut multiple layers at a time, saving you time. (This doesn't work with fussy cutting, but it's great if you're not worried about capturing a specific part of the fabric.)

Cutting fabric using a store bought template.
Note: you can see along the edges where I've put
little pieces of sandpaper to keep it from slipping while cutting.
Another method for cutting is to use a ruler, papers, and rotary cutter.  The ruler will help you get your 3/8" (or 1/4") seam allowance.

Finally, you can just use scissors and eye ball it by cutting around the outside of the shape. Be careful that you're leaving enough of a seam allowance though.

A side note about pre-washing fabric.  I see this question on Facebook daily--and the answers are always adamant no matter which direction you look.  Pre-washers insist it's the best way to pre-shrink your fabric as well as help eliminate the possibility of fabric bleed later.  Non pre-washers insist that this is a waste of time, doesn't really work for pre-cuts, and it makes it harder to work with since it no longer has the starchy feel it has when you buy it.  I personally don't pre-wash. I throw color catchers in with finished quilts and have never had any issues with shrinking.  Ultimately, this is a personal decision.

Basting Your Fabric to the Paper
As with everything in quilting and in life, there's more than one way to do things. English paper piecing is no exception. If you ask people on Facebook about whether you should glue baste, tack around the corners, or sew through the paper, you'll get a dozen different reasons on why you should do it a specific way.  They're all perfectly valid.  However, I learned using glue basting, and I never learned sew basting because glue basting was so easy to do and seemed like it would be a time saver.  I'm going to share my tips on glue basting and provide you with link to a tutorial on sew basting.  Check them out and see what works for you.  

Step one: center your paper on the wrong side of the fabric.

Step two: using your glue stick, draw a thin line of glue along one edge. (Remember, the glue should be water soluble.)  Be sure to leave about 1/8" of space between the glue and the edge of the paper.  If you're right on the edge, it can make it a little more difficult to sew. Also, use a thin line.  You don't need a ton of glue to make the pieces hold.  If you use too much glue, you may struggle a bit more when removing your papers later.

Note the small amount of glue along the upper left part of the
hexagon.  It's just a little bit away from the edge of the paper
to make sewing easier.

Glue is not easy to photograph unless you're heavy-handed
with it, so I drew a line on the paper in pen to represent the
proper placement and amount needed to secure your fabric
without making it difficult to remove.

I'm left handed, so I always start on the left side and work counter-clockwise around the piece.  Do it in whatever way makes the most sense to you.  Just be consistent. With hexagons, it's not as big a deal because you don't have tails that will hang off the piece, but with other shapes you might, and you want your tails all to point in the same direction when you're sewing.  (Note: if the shape you're using has a long side, start there and work your way around from there.)

Step three: fold the edge of the fabric over firmly and press the fabric to the glue so that it holds.  Make sure that you're not leaving gaps of space in the fabric around the paper.  It can make lining up your pieces more difficult.  While you don't need to tug the fabric (you'll stretch it), you want to make sure it's snug.

Step four: spin the piece gently so that the paper doesn't shift, and repeat steps 2 and 3. Continue all the way around the piece until all sides have been glued down.

Flip it over and see your sharply basted hexagon all ready for sewing!  Note the sharp corners. They can make all the difference in helping line up your pieces correctly.

If you would like to give sew basting a try, here is a really good YouTube video on basting your pieces using needle and thread instead of glue.

And that's it!  Once you get the hang of basting, you'll be able to fly through getting your pieces ready without even having to think about it. Make as many or as few at a time as you like.  I tend to prepare only the pieces I need for any one piece of the project I'm working on, or what I plan to take with me. But some people like to make all of them at once so they can concentrate on sewing.

In the next tutorial, I'll show you how to sew your pieces together.  Until then, happy quilting!


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