English Paper Piecing: The Basics

Do you English paper piece? This is one quilting technique that I’ve wanted to try, so I’ve decided to take the plunge.

epp“What is English paper piecing?” you ask. It’s a patchwork technique that uses fabric covered templates to create geometric patterns. Fabric is stitched around the templates, oftentimes made of paper or thin plastic, to mimic the template’s shape. Then, templates are whipstitched together to form a larger pattern. The paper or plastic shapes can be removed and reused once the seams have been joined.

I’m drawn to English paper piecing (EPP) because it’s a great way to use those smaller pieces of fabric I’ve been hoarding in my stash. Plus, it’s a project that is easy to take with me on the go, even if I’m just going to the couch so I can watch a movie.

My favorite EPP instructions come from Jessica Alexandrakis’ book Get Started Quilting: The Complete Beginner Guide. Without further ado, let’s give it a try.

Attaching Fabric to Templates:

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1. Place a template onto the center of the wrong side of your fabric.

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2. Baste the fabric to the paper template by folding the fabric over and securing with two paper clips.

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3. Knot the basting thread, fold over the first corner and take a backstitch (two stitches in the same spot), catching the fold.

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4. Fold over the next corner and take another backstitch. Continue until all corners are secure. Repeat for all the templates.

Joining Templates:

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1. Join the templates with a whipstitch. Start by burying the knot in the seam allowance and taking a few stitches to secure it, coming up at the corner where you will start to sew.

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2. Place two templates right sides together, aligning all the corners.

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3. Take a stitch into the corner of the second template and back through the first then pull securely.

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4. Take another stitch in the same spot, this time wrapping the thread around the needle before pulling through to make a small knot at the corner (this is known as a “wrap knot”).

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5. Begin to stitch from corner to corner, taking small bites of fabric along the edge of the template. Do not sew through the template paper. Instead, use the template as a guide to slide the needle along as you take each stitch.

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6. When you reach the end of the template, take an extra stitch and slip the needle through the thread to knot it.

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7. To join another template, leave the thread as it is, open the first two templates and place a new one along the seam you plan to sew. Take two stitches in the same spot of the corner and again make a wrap knot to secure it.

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8. Stitch to the next corner as before and finish with a wrap knot in the corner. Next, travel with the thread along the seam allowance and back to the corner of the templates to be joined.

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9. Fold the piece to align the corners to be sewn. Whipstitch to the next corner.

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10. To end a line of stitching, make a wrap knot, take three stitches back over what you have just sewn, and bury the thread by working it into the seam allowance.

Removing Templates:

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After all the edges of a template have been sewn, remove it by reaching in with your fingernail or a crochet hook, grasping an edge, and pulling it out. There is no need to remove the basting stitches.

As with any quilting technique, the possibilities for English paper piecing are endless and we are only limited by our imagination. Use your leftovers to create an EPP scrappy quilt, use them in a table runner, or on a set of coasters.

Learn this technique and so many more in Get Started Quilting: The Complete Beginner Guide. Jessica Alexandrakis makes learning something new manageable and easy to understand. This is just the kind of resource every quilter, beginners and experts alike, ought to keep on hand for easy reference.  And for those of us with limited space in our library of quilting resources, download the eBook.

Happy quilting!

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