Sunday, November 6, 2016

Putting Together Your English Paper Piecing Kit

English Paper Piecing Tutorial: Part II
What Goes in the Kit?

Welcome to Part II of my English paper piecing tutorial! I'm excited to share what I've learned about EPP.  I hope it opens up a whole new world of quilting possibilities for you. (If you don't already know what English paper piecing is, please see Part I of my tutorial.)

Oh My Stars!!

Getting started in EPP is easy and can be done pretty affordably.  If you're already a quilter/sewer, there's a very good chance you already have nearly everything you need, but I'm going to give the full list for anyone who is starting completely from scratch.  Please note: Any product recommendations are based on personal experience only.  There are any number of good options out there, so experiment with other brands and see what works for you.


1. Needles: You'll want your needles to be long and thin.  Look for "straw needles" or "milliner needles" in size 10 or 11.  There are many options to choose from.  Ones I like in particular are the John James Easy Glide Milliner and Richard Hemmings Milliner.  If you can find large-eye needles, even better!

2. Thread: Honestly, any good, sturdy thread will do.  Ideally, I would go with a 50 or 60 weight thread, or an all-purpose cotton or polyester thread.  You'll find out pretty quickly which ones you like the best.  You'll want a thinner thread so that your stitches blend, but it has to be strong enough so that it holds up to repeated tugging.  Some people swear by Aurifil, and some prefer Superior Bottom Line threads.  Both are great, but they're a bit pricey and not as easy to find.  (I've seen them most often in dedicated quilt shops.)  I actually prefer Gutermann thread. It's strong, affordable, and easy to find.  I also like that there are so many color options.  I've also got some Coats & Clark in my kit.

Basic colors you should have at minimum: light gray, dark gray, black, and white/cream. Many times these will be sufficient.  Sometimes though, I've wanted a color to be a little more matchy so that my stitches blend better, particularly when I'm using orange, red, and pink.

These all work equally well.  The main goal is strong and thin.
Go with the thread that fits your budget.
3. Thimble: You're going to be pushing that needle through over and over again. A thimble will save you from feeling like a pin cushion.  There are unlimited options for these. Just find one that you find comfortable.

4. Seam ripper: Even experienced quilters know that sometimes you make a mistake, and you'll need to take out some stitches.  Sometimes your thread breaks mid-sewing and you need to backtrack.  In either case, it's good to have one on hand.

5. Scissors: I use two kinds of scissors when doing English paper piecing.  I have a small set that fits in my kit for cutting thread.  I also have the dedicated fabric scissors that no one else is allowed to touch.

6. Papers: These are the key to English paper piecing.  They give your fabric its shape while you sew the pieces together.  They can be made from any kind of paper, though I recommend something sturdy, like a basic card stock.  Some people like to use the advertisements that fall out of magazines.  Others like using junk mail.  I've even heard of people using regular paper, though I would caution you against that.  You need your papers to be sturdy.  Regular paper is not going to give you that support while you stitch.  Also avoid anything that's too rigid, since you'll want to be able to bend your papers from time to time.

You can purchase your papers already made from a number of companies, both online and in craft stores.  The craft stores are typically going to have basic shapes like hexagons (a great beginning shape).  The specialty companies are going to have far more of a selection, a greater choice in sizes, and perhaps even some in kit form for some really fun quilt patterns. You can also make your own shapes using tools that I'll talk about more in the next section. Note, however, that your shapes should be consistent in size.  If you choose to make your own, you'll want to make sure that you're measuring carefully so that they will line up properly.

Both homemade and store bought papers
7. Fabric: The star of the show! Obviously you have endless possibilities for fabric.  Just be sure you're getting a good quality fabric, wherever you decide to buy it.  If it feels like paper or is easy to see through, it's probably better to pass and keep looking.  You want your hard work to last for a very long time!


1. Rotary cutter/cutting mat: It's a lot easier to cut your fabric using a rotary cutter, particularly if you're cutting multiple layers of fabric at one time, if you're using a template, or if you're fussy cutting.  You can cut your fabric using scissors, but it may take longer and be harder on your hands after awhile.  

2. Rulers: Straight edges are a handy tool for marking your seam allowances, if you're cutting fabric in bulk, or if you're cutting your own paper pieces.  

3. Glue pen: When I learned how to English paper piece, I was taught using the glue basting method.  It's a quick and easy way to baste your fabric to your papers, though it's certainly not the only way.  (There will be more on basting in the next tutorial.)  If you decide to use the glue basting method, be sure to use a glue stick that is water soluble.  I use craft ones since they're smaller and easier to apply in modest amounts.  The refills are also universal between different brands. They're a little more of an investment, but the manageable size is worth it to me. I've also heard of people using Elmer's glue sticks because they're significantly cheaper.  I tried it once, and it worked okay, but it goes on a bit thick. If you'd rather use those, just be sure it says it's water soluble.

4. Templates: If you've followed my blog or Facebook posts for any length of time, you know I like to fussy cut, meaning I like to cut specific parts of my fabric in order to create pretty patterns.  If you decide to give fussy cutting a try, templates are very helpful.  You can get acrylic ones from the same places that you buy your papers, or you can make your own using cardboard or template plastic.  

5. Mirrors: This is another fussy cutting tool.  The first couple of years I did English paper piecing, I'd never tried using them.  But after taking a workshop with Sue Daley, she introduced me to the mirror method, and I've found I like it a lot.  It opens up additional fussy cutting opportunities that you might not have considered without it.  You just need two mirrors at an angle, and by changing the angle, you can preview what your fussy cut might look like.

Checking to see what a five pointed star might look like when cut.
I like it!!  
6. Fiskars punches: If you want to make your own papers at home, then these are a great start for some of your basic shapes.  The square and hexagon cutters especially are a good investment.  You just need to buy card stock and a punch, and you'll easily be able to make a one-shape or two-shape quilt.  Just be careful with the shapes you choose to buy.  I've checked the diamond ones that Fiskars sells, and they are not the right shape for using in English paper piecing.  I'm hoping sometime they catch on to the fact that EPP is a pretty open market and start making shapes that work for our needs.

7. Clips: Clips are a good way to hold your pieces lined up so that you don't have to stress out your hands.  Especially in the beginning, it's common to hold the pieces more tightly than necessary, which can create some achy hands after sewing for awhile.  Get a few clips, and your hands will thank you.

I use both specialty clips and tiny binder clips.
They work equally well.
8. A way to carry it all: One of the wonderful things about English paper piecing is its portability.  You'll want a little box or container to carry it all in. I have an Art Bin that carries all of my thread, plus a smaller box inside for the sharp things like needles, scissors, and seam ripper.  You have endless options.

As you can see, with just a few basic items you can get started with English paper piecing. And with a few additional tools, you can go even further with your piecing.  Start small.  You can always add later.  The most important thing is having fun!

In my next tutorial, I'll show you how to get started.  Until then, happy quilting!!

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