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How to Sew with English Paper Piecing

Angie Wilson of GnomeAngel.com - Fussy Cut English Paper Piecing - Ferris Wheel Pattern. Quilt made for 15th Brother International Quilt Contest 2015
My work in progress for the 15th Brother International Quilt Contest 2015.

Have you been lusting after the complex designs you see popping up all over social media that use English Paper Piecing? You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s a really complex process and that because it involves hand stitching it’s not going to be enjoyable. I say that, because that’s exactly how I used to feel about it.

I’m not the world’s greatest hand stitcher, in fact many a sewing teacher has strongly advised me against doing hand stitching. I’m also really impatient when it comes to projects and so I always thought I’d find hand stitching frustratingly excruciatingly slow. However, I gave it a try and you know what, I was wrong. (If my husband asks it’s only happened twice in my life and this was one of those times!)

The beauty of English Paper Piecing is that unlike hand stitching which you piece together in the traditional patchwork manner this method gives you an inbuilt structure to work with. For me, the papers provide the guide and confinement that my over exuberant stitching requires. I also find the hand stitching (much like binding) really enjoyable and meditative. It’s also the kind of project that allows me to sit on the couch with my family at the end of the day and spend quality time together while I work and they unwind without me feeling like I’m wasting time by just watching television.

These projects are really portable and so they’re great if you want to work on a project while at the kid’s soccer game, in an airport, driving around Australia. If you can sit and concentrate you can sew an English Paper Piecing project.

You don’t need a lot to get started with these projects and I’ve got a great tutorial on how to make your own English Paper Pieces if you’re looking for a truly flexible way of working, but there’s some amazing patterns and kits available from your Local Quilt Shop or online. Papers are really cheap to buy and if you treat them with care you can use them again and again for multiple projects.   

I’m currently working on my quilt for the 15th Brother International Quilt Contest and I’m using the English Paper Piecing Pattern called “Ferris Wheel” as the basis of this project. (If you’d like to make your own version of this pattern I’ve included all the paper shape requirements you’ll need in this post.) The theme of the contest is “Eco” which has proved to be a lot of fun and I’m enjoying being able to realise my vision. (Contest closes 31 October 2015 and further details can be found here: click here for more details)

Let’s get started!

Learn how to sew Engligh Paper Piece patterns together with Angie Wilson on Gnomeangel.com

What you need:

For Basting:

For Sewing:


These are the supplies that I use to do all of my paper piecing projects. Because I like to stitch on the couch I keep all of these in a tin with an empty jam jar to catch my excess threads (being able to put a lid on the jar makes it handy!). I also use a lap table when I’m working on the couch; it helps keep me from losing needles in the couch cushions.  Because it’s such a portable craft it’s really great if you can make a little kit up to take with you when you’re out and about or when you’re just binge watching Netflix.

How to Glue Baste

This is my preferred method for English Paper Piecing. I like to glue baste my pieces because it’s fast and I’m impatient, but like everything with quilting there’s other ways to do it. If you don’t like to use glue you can thread baste the shapes. The glue doesn’t “hurt” the fabric and it comes out in the wash. Just be mindful to have a light touch when you use it. You don’t want big globs of glue getting in your way when you’re stitching and you’ll need to remove the papers when you’ve joined all your pieces so you don’t want to have to fight with the glue and run the risk of pulling  your stitches or the fabrics.

1. You’ll need to press and starch your fabrics as desired. (I use Flatter by Soak for my starching option.) You’ll need fabric, Rotary Cutter, ruler, Mat and Glue Pen.

2. Take one paper piece and place on the wrong side of your fabric. You can put a tiny dab of the glue pen on the back of the paper to secure it to your fabric if you wish. Keep in mind where the pattern on the fabric is if you’re going to fussy cut.

Learn how to sew Engligh Paper Piece patterns together with Angie Wilson on Gnomeangel.com

3. Use your ruler to cut a 1/4″ seam around your paper piece. You can line the quarter inch mark on your ruler with the edge of your paper. (This is why sometimes it’s a good idea to put a tiny dab of the glue pen on the back of the paper to secure it to your fabric so it doesn’t move as you move your ruler.

Tip: If you’re using a standard size paper you can often buy acrylic templates to help you cut out the fabric. If you use a template you won’t need to attach the paper to your fabric. Be sure to check and make sure you’re cutting out your fabric using a template that includes the seam allowance. For example, if your papers are 2.5″ you’ll need to use a 3″ template to cut out fabric pieces that include a seam allowance.

Learn how to sew Engligh Paper Piece patterns together with Angie Wilson on Gnomeangel.com

4. Once you’ve cut your fabric to include seam allowance you need to secure the fabric to your paper using your Glue Pen. Lightly put a line of glue along one side of the paper. Remember you’ll need to remove the papers once you’ve joined them altogether so don’t be too heavy handed with the glue. Also, don’t be too tight with folding your fabric as you’ll need to be able to slide the needle between the paper and the top of the fold.

Tip: I put the line of glue about a 1/4″ on to each of the next sides of the edge I’m preparing. This helps catch the fabric properly as you work your way around.

Learn how to sew Engligh Paper Piece patterns together with Angie Wilson on Gnomeangel.com

5. Repeat step 4 around remaining sides until you get to the final side. You’ll need to put a little bit of glue on the corner of the previous turned fabric to help it stick as you fold.

Learn how to sew Engligh Paper Piece patterns together with Angie Wilson on Gnomeangel.com

6. Put a tiny bit of glue on both edges of the fabric (as indicated by the arrows in diagram 6) and along the edge of the paper. Fold the edge over.

Learn how to sew Engligh Paper Piece patterns together with Angie Wilson on Gnomeangel.com

7. Repeat the process for all your pattern pieces.

Note: You’ll see with the triangle there’s “tags” where the fabric fold exceeds the edge of the shape – that’s normal. You’ll simple move them out of the way by gently folding them back when you stitch so they sit behind the edge of the shape they’re joining. I’ve used a triangle in the following steps to show you how it’s done.

Sewing Together Your English Paper Pieces

Again, this is how I do it. There may be other ways of achieving the same result and I’d encourage you to work with what comes naturally to you. The principle is still the same, you’re joining the fabrics together to make a patchwork.

1. Thread your needle with thread. I like to double thread my needle, this is where you thread the needle and then tie both ends of the thread together so when you stitch there is two lots of thread being used. Make sure your knot is secure and trim any excess threads from the end of the knot. Be careful not to clip the knot.

2. Select two pieces to join. Link up their edges. They will align at each corner without any excess. The pieces need to face each other, right sides together. Thread the needle, from behind, through one of the corners of your piece. I like to start in a fold if possible as this hides the tail of your thread and can make it easier to catch the fabric to start.

Learn how to sew Engligh Paper Piece patterns together with Angie Wilson on Gnomeangel.com

3. Bring the needle up through the fabric making sure to pull the thread all the way to the knot. Bring you needle back through the opposite edge. The needle will be facing the edge that you started on. You are aiming to pass the needle through both pieces of fabric without catching the paper. (This is why you don’t want to pull the fabric too tight when basting.) Think of the fabric fold like an upside down U and the paper is in the middle between both sides of the U. You want the needle to pass through each side of the U and above the edge of the paper.

Learn how to sew Engligh Paper Piece patterns together with Angie Wilson on Gnomeangel.com

4. Repeat this stitch for the entire length of your join. How many stitches you do per inch is a personal preference. Some recommend only a couple, some recommend a lot. I like to do a lot of stitches purely for piece of mine. My stitches fall between 1/8″ and 1/4″ apart. You will always pass the needle through on the opposite side to where you started. Eg. If you start by passing the needle through the right side you will always point the stitch back to you via the left.

Learn how to sew Engligh Paper Piece patterns together with Angie Wilson on Gnomeangel.com

5. When you get to the end you will pass your needle through both corners. Use the loop formed to pass your needle up through the loop (5a) and make a knot. I do this 2 – 3 times in the same spot to secure the corners.

Note: The triangle is on the bottom in image 5 and as you can see the fabric fold extends past the end of the shape. You do not need to sew into this, you just have to sew until you get to the meeting corners of both shapes. This extra fabric will sit behind your shapes as you work. You just gently fold it back as you work on your joins.

Learn how to sew Engligh Paper Piece patterns together with Angie Wilson on Gnomeangel.com

6. Fold the pieces open. This is your join. Continue with this technique to join all sides of your pieces – just join one side at a time and work in sections.

Note: See the extension of the fabric fold on the triangle has not been stitched and will not be seen when all pieces are joined.

Tip: If you’re having problem holding your pieces together while you work Clover Wonder Clips work a treat to hold the pieces together, especially when you’re doing the long joins where multiple pieces need to be manipulated.

If you’ve not heard about the contest here’s the details in a nutshell:

Create an “Eco” themed quilt (sized at 70cm x 70cm) and enter the competition for your chance to win a Brother Innov-is NV1800Q (RRP $1,799) and a revolutionary Brother ScanNCut CM550DX (RRP $699). Entries close 31 October 2015 and are open to Australians only. You can find out more by clicking here.

Amazing right! Not only will you win $2,400 in Brother prizes but the top 10 of the Australian quilts will travel to Tokyo and may hang at the Tokyo Quilt Festival. That’s huge!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase those items through my links I will earn a very small commission. You will not pay more when buying a product through my link, in fact in some cases I can offer you a better price via an affiliate link. I will not recommend something that I do not use myself. These commissions help me keep being able to provide you with great content for free. Thank you, in advance for your support!

Brother Australia are financial supporters of GnomeAngel.com. All opinions expressed are my own and have not been influenced by the businesses involved. For further information about my disclosure policy please click here.

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  1. I love EPP and particularly the hand stitching. For some reason when I hand sew I feel calm, don’t know why; but I like it and I’m going to keep on doing it. Once again I am convinced that Australia was blessed by a quilt fairy because there is so much talent in your country. I have made some life long friends through swaps and some day I’m going to knock on their doors and give them big quilting hugs. Thank you for sharing all the info, it is clear and fun.

  2. Hi Angie, I love this project and especially like the map of the world fabric you’ve used. Do you mind telling who the designer is? thanks

  3. What a great tutorial, Angie! I love the portability of EPP, too, and that’s what first drew me to the process. Now I love it! So you essentially use ladder stitch to sew your pieces together? I usually whip stitch them, but I will try ladder now! I agree with Cassie about the 3/8ths seam allowance, at least for pieces with edges longer than 1″ or if thread basting. I’ve found that with glue basting, the 1/4″ is sufficient. Maybe that’s another draw to glue? I also love that no matter how you go about it, once you sew your pieces together, you’ve got a gorgeous hand stitched beauty! P.s. Your project is just fabulous! I’m drooling over your fussy-cut friendly stash!!

    1. I meant Cassandra. Sorry for shortening it to Cassie–I don’t know if she even goes by Cassie! As a Kitty, short for Katherine, I try to be meticulous with getting names correct. This one slipped by! 🙂

  4. Hi Angie … thanks for this fantastic tutorial… it’s the best one I’ve seen… I have done EPP and love it. This tute
    will really help the newbies to learn this hand piecing technic. … Judy Wilson

  5. Great tutorial (and nails!!) Angie. I love how portable my EPP projects are. I do find that 1/4″ is too small to manage as my seam allowance though, I always cut 3/8″ minimum. Sometimes I don’t even trim my seam allowance down at all when basting. EPP is so forgiving 😉

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