How to Make a Patchwork Block with English Paper Piecing

I have tried handwork of all kinds. Anything to do with needles and thread has been on my radar or in my project basket at one time or another. But every so often I discover something new.

scrappy patchwork pillow by joanna wilczynska
Scrappy Patchwork Pillow with English paper piecing by
Joanna Wilczynska, from Modern Patchwork 2013.

Several years ago I was helping a friend clean out her neighbor's sewing room and we came across a beautiful piece of handwork. It was a hand-pieced patchwork block from a Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt and it captured my heart immediately. Not only was it pretty and colorful, it also told an intriguing story.

When I flipped the block over, I saw that it was pieced with the English paper piecing (EPP) method that I'd heard about but never seen. This method of piecing is done entirely by hand. Intricate shapes are cut out to the exact size of the finished piece, and fabric is basted around the shape. Two shapes are then whipstitched together, again by hand, and the paper is eventually removed.  

In the block I had found, the paper was still intact. This quilter had used the paper she had on hand, the Sunday comics, and not only do the colored comic strips add an unexpected twist to the found block, they also date it.

Needless to say, I kept the block. It is now framed and hangs on my wall with the back displayed.

So when Joanna Wilczynska's EPP project was chosen by our editorial team to be included in this spring's Modern Patchwork magazine, I couldn't wait to jump in and try my hand at making her beautiful designs.  Here is a summary of Joanna's tutorial on paper piecing blocks for a pillow, from Modern Patchwork 2013.

paper pieced patchwork blocks
Here are two of my paper-pieced
patchwork blocks, in progress.

1. Trace the single patterns onto template plastic or cardboard; cut out. Using the templates, trace the shapes onto paper; cut out the quantities indicated. Be sure to trace and cut carefully.

2. Pin the paper template to the wrong side of the fabric and cut around the template, leaving an approximate 1/4" seam allowance. Fold the seam allowance over the paper template and secure the fabric at the folds with a few basting stitches. Do not stitch through the paper; catch the fabric only. Carry the thread from 1 fold to the next, and do not remove the paper.

3. After completing 1 hexagon, 6 squares and 6 triangles, whipstitch them together to create a circle.

4. When you have finished piecing all the circles together, remove the basting stitches and paper templates.

I started piecing a few of these blocks and I have to say, they are addicting. The perfect project for keeping my hands busy while watching TV or my kids games.

You'll find Joanna's pieced patchwork pillow project and many more patchowork patterns for quilts, accessories, and home decor in the Spring 2013 issue of Modern Patchwork.

P.S. Have you tried English paper piecing? Do you prefer another method of making patchwork blocks? Share your experience!

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10 thoughts on “How to Make a Patchwork Block with English Paper Piecing

  1. I first saw English paper piecing on a quilt my step father’s mother made. It was green and white. I didn’t like the Colorado but was impressed by it because of all the handwork that went into it. I love the tranquility of hand work. It calms my mind and is my ‘me’ time even in a room filled with noise of a family.

  2. I recently watched a demo on English Paper Piecing at quilt show in Mesa AZ. I love the idea of hand piecing, which I haven’t done in a long time. It’s peaceful and easy to do with out having to set my sewing room up for a time consuming project. I can just pick it up and start where I left off. I can’t wait to get started.

  3. I cannot remember where I found this PP pattern (in the article) but was intrigued by the method and pattern. The quilting pattern consists of straight lines through the hexagons to the middle of the triangles, then the lines turn toward the adjacent hexagon and continue on. The squares are quilted with small, nickel-size circles. It took me 2 years, playing with it on and off, to complete the 48″ x 60″ top. I then found a quilting pattern online specifically for this PP pattern. I’ve hand quilting half of the quilt so far and am now inspired to resume working on it.

  4. Intrigued to read this. Paper templates are the ONLY method of hand stitching quilts that I know. I was taught how to do this in the early 1980s using Laura Ashley fabric scraps – the first ‘charm packs’ I suppose. I am British, so perhaps that’s why 🙂

  5. I’ve made pp Grandmother’s Flower Garden and loved the tranquility and portability of the handwork. I’ve not seen your pattern with the hexagon center and square & triangle outer edges. Will file this away and give it a try sometime. Thank you.

  6. I’ve made pp Grandmother’s Flower Garden and loved the tranquility and portability of the handwork. I’ve not seen your pattern with the hexagon center and square & triangle outer edges. Will file this away and give it a try sometime. Thank you.

  7. I was taught this method as a teenager – many years ago. I was taught to tack through the paper and the fabric one stitch between the corner seam ones. ie start with a knot, turn down the first edge and stitch one tacking stitch about 1/8 inch in from the edge, turn down the next side and put needle through both layers at the corner, then another in between stitch. it is still easy to remove the tacking stitches later and you have the edge held down firmly while you are sewing it.
    You can buy ready cut paper templates if you search on the net and you can also make them on a die cutter machine. The papers MUST be very accurate although the fabric can be cut a little roughly as you fold the fabric to the perfect paper shape.
    The papers can be removed after overcasting the shapes together, just turn back the seam facings and gently pinch the paper and remove it once all the sewing is done

  8. My sister, Grandmother and I worked on a Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt in the 1970s as teens using English piecing. My sister finally finished it about 20 years later. It took forever. I’ve pretty much decided I don’t have enough time in life to do any more of it—way too slow a process for me.