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What Is English Paper Piecing?

English Paper Piecing Tutorial: Part I
What is English Paper Piecing?

First, let me tell you what it's not.  English paper piecing is not the same thing as foundation paper piecing, which is a technique for creating quilt blocks by having a printed design on paper (the foundation), and then sewing the fabric to the paper in a pre-arranged order using your sewing machine.

English paper piecing, or EPP, on the other hand, is a technique of quilting that uses pieces of paper to stabilize fabric so that they can be sewn together by hand.

In EPP, you start with a pattern that calls for any number of shapes, from one-shape quilts, like Grandma's Flower Garden, that's completely made up of hexagons, to those with a great number of shapes, like the New Hexagon Millefiore Quilt by Katja Marek.  

Once you've decided on a pattern, you make or purchase a number of the paper shapes needed, for example, 1" hexagons.  Then your fabric is basted to the paper (more on this in a future post).  After that, you sew the pieces together along each edge until they form the desired shape.  Then you just keep adding shapes until the top is complete.  After all of the stitching is done, the paper is removed, leaving you with a beautiful, hand-stitched quilt top.


The centerpiece for a rosette in a La Passacaglia quilt.

If you're just starting out with English paper piecing, a good place to start would be a quilt that only needs one or two different shapes, like Grandma's Flower Garden or Lucy Boston's Patchwork of the Crosses (which only uses two shapes, a honeycomb and a square).  Both are easy ways to learn the technique, as well as not being quite as tricky when it comes to basting and sewing.  (Some shapes can be a little more challenging, like obtuse triangles, which create some very narrow angles for bulky fabric to wrap around.)  

How do I know if I would like English paper piecing?

Consider the following:
  • Do you like hand sewing the back of the binding onto your finished quilts?
  • Are you looking for something portable that you can do while traveling, during breaks at work, or while waiting during doctors' appointments?
  • Do you have trouble sitting for extended periods of time at a sewing machine?
  • Are you looking for something to help you relieve stress or anxiety?
If you responded yes to any of these, then you might want to give English paper piecing a try. It's great for people who want something portable, that doesn't take up a lot of space, and that doesn't cost a lot of money.  There's the initial investment in getting supplies to build your kit, but after that, it can be as frugal or as elaborate as you choose to be.  (See Part II, coming soon, on what you should have on hand when starting out in EPP).  

You also shouldn't expect to put your quilts together quickly.  EPP is a slow technique, done completely by hand.  For some people, that's part of its attraction.  For me, it's a form of meditation.  The methodical stitching of each piece together is soothing, and shouldn't be rushed.  It's been wonderful for helping to relieve stress.

English paper piecing makes it possible for quilters to piece very precise points. It also allows for some amazing fussy cutting, which can be a lot of fun once you figure out how to find interesting repeats. 


Caution: Fussy cutting is addictive!!!
If you think you'd like to give English paper piecing a try, stay tuned.  More tutorials are coming on what you should have in your kit, basting your pieces, sewing your pieces together, and fussy cutting.  I'm also pondering some free patterns to get you started!  If you have any questions about English paper piecing, feel free to post your question in the comments. Happy quilting!!

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