Home 5 Blog 5 Beginner’s Guide to English Paper Piecing

Beginner’s Guide to English Paper Piecing

by | Sep 24, 2021

English Paper Piecing has endured for several hundred years and has in recent years had a huge resurgence. A wealth of new shapes, many of them looking deceptively complicated, have surfaced. Instagram is lush with gorgeous photographs of all manner and sizes of EPP projects.

Read on and learn how you can get started with English Paper Piecing.

english paper piecing

Why English Paper Piece? 

Here are some good reasons to add English Paper Piecing (EPP) to your quilting repertoire.

1. EPP does not require a sewing machine

EPP is a very traditional way of doing patchwork by hand. It can be a great introduction to patchwork and quilting for beginners who don’t have access to a sewing machine. 

2. EPP lets you slow down 

In a world that focuses on automating and speeding up processes, EPP invites the sewist to slow down and take their time.

EPP is in many ways a process more similar to knitting and crochet than piecing on a sewing machine. As the technique becomes familiar to your hands, EPP takes on a meditative component that lets you relax and let your thoughts wander.

english paper piecing templates

3. EPP is portable 

Almost everybody I know who loves EPP will say the same thing…English Paper Piecing is the perfect technique for patchwork on the go.

I have worked on EPP projects on road trips in the US, on-street cafes in Prague, on cabins in Norway, on hiking vacations in France. I was once hospitalized for a week for a leg surgery and guess what I did those days in a hospital bed? You are right…..English Paper Piecing.

4. EPP is easy to learn 

Typically, when I teach EPP to beginners, we have a 2 to 3-hour class and by the end, everybody has mostly completed their first hexagon flower. Surely, your first few hexagon flowers won’t be the prettiest you will ever make, but with just a few hours of practice and the right tools, you will be getting beautiful results. 

english paper piecing quilt

Starting Your First English Paper Piecing Project

So you have decided to learn English Paper Piecing and you want to start your first project. But there is so much information out there and so many enticing project ideas.

As a beginner, how do you get started? We will focus on technique in our next installment, but for now, let us focus on picking the right project and getting you off to a good start.

English Paper Piecing Tips for Beginners

1. There are different variations in the EPP technique

One of the differences has to do with how to baste the fabric onto the paper templates. Some practitioners love to glue the fabric to the paper template with a removable glue whereas others prefer to sew the fabric onto the template with a few basting stitches. 

Personally, I fall into the stitch-basting camp because it doesn’t require me to drag glue around with me. However,  you can get great results with either technique. Most of the differences out there are simply a matter of preference and work style. If you are in doubt about some of the difference you see, just pick a technique that is available to you and get started. You can always adjust your technique as you find what feels comfortable to you. 

2. Use the right tools for English Paper Piecing

EPP does not require a large investment in tools and supplies to get started. However, low-quality sewing needles, thimbles, thread, and paper templates can make the process less enjoyable than it could be with optimal tools. 

I have seen desperately unhappy posts from people who bought cheap hexagon templates from unknown sellers only to realize the sides weren’t all the same length. I have also seen the happy surprise in my student’s faces when I switch them over to a high-quality hand-sewing needle. Check out our article on the Best EPP tools to learn which simple tools and supplies we recommend. 

3. Start with an easy English Paper Piecing pattern 

There are many EPP patterns and template kits on the market these days that end up being pretty complicated “mosaics” of different shaped pieces. As stunning as these projects are, they are extremely time-consuming and require that the maker keeps detailed track of where they are in the project.

As you are just learning EPP, I recommend that you aim for a project that requires only one or two shapes. The most obvious shape to start with is the classic hexagon. They are easy to baste and can be assembled into myriad different patterns and shapes. Another beautiful shape to start with is the 60-degree diamond. 

4. Pick an appropriate size for the template shape you choose

No matter which shape you start with, plan your first EPP project with a medium-size template. Tiny EPP is incredibly impressive-looking but can be very fiddly before you get used to the technique. As you get more practice, your dexterity will increase and you can decrease the size of the paper templates. 

It may seem that very big paper templates would make EPP easier. That is not necessarily the case. When the paper templates get big, it becomes harder to hold the fabric-wrapped templates in your hands. As an example, I have normal-sized female hands and I find that for hexagon templates, ¾” – 1 ½” is the easiest size range for me to work in. 

english paper piecing ideas

5. Aim for a small EPP project 

If you are new to English Paper Piecing or quilting in general, plan for your first learning projects to be limited in scope.

EPP projects can easily be incorporated into other small projects. For example, hexagon flowers or EPP Dresden plates can be appliqued to another project or garment. A small EPP panel can be incorporated into a small bag or coin purse like in this lovely English paper piecing idea from Minky Kim.

Placemats, coasters, rug mugs, and little wall quilts are all great ideas for your first English Paper Piecing projects.  

6. Use high-quality quilting cotton for your first EPP project

English paper piecing is an investment of time and effort and cheap fabrics will fade, rip, and lose structure much faster than high-quality fabrics. 

Any fabric sold in a reputable quilt shop should be appropriate for your project but stay clear of discount fabrics from the large chain stores.

One of the cool things about EPP is that the technique lends itself to working with alternative fabrics like silk. Silk, however, is slippery and adds another layer of complexity to your learning experience. Pick a few quilting cottons that you really love. 

7. Stay away from gimmicky tools and tricks for English Paper Piecing.

When a technique in quilting becomes popular, there usually appears a crop of inventions that claim to improve on the technique. EPP is no different. Some of the new gadgets and tricks may be a real benefit, but many are not. There are “reusable plastic paper templates”, fusible template shapes, “easy machine-pieced” EPP. The list goes on. 

But the beauty of EPP is in its simplicity. All you really need is fabric, paper templates, needles, and threads. As you start your EPP journey, I recommend that you focus on mastering the basic, original EPP technique first. You can always adopt tricks, gadgets, and shortcuts later when you know what may work with your particular style of sewing.

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