When I woke up today the internet told me that it’s National Quilting Day! Rejoice! It just so happens that I’m working on a quilting project, and since I’m not usually working on a quilting project, these seemed like fortuitous circumstances. Thought I’d better blog about it.
I’m more of a fashion sewing gal than a home wares stuff sewing gal, which is one of the reasons I don’t quilt more often, but I came across this quilting (or piecing, actually) method called English Paper Piecing in my internet wanderings, and I fell in love. Ever seen a hexagon quilt and been like, “how they do that?!” (is it just me that wonders this shit?). There’s a good chance they put it together using English Paper Piecing; if you do a quick image search for “English paper piecing,” you’ll see lots of those hexagon quilts. Should we call it EPP from here on out? All the cool kids do.
I love EPP for so many reasons, number one being that it’s a hand sewing method. The more I grow into myself as a sewer, the more I see the value of handwork. It can be both the most aesthetically pleasant and the most versatile way of doing biz, and whether you’re embroidering or mending or quilting or doing surgery (I assume, I’ve never actually done human stitches), there’s something that just feels good about hand sewing.
EPP is done by stitching or gluing fabric over pieces of heavy paper cut to the shape of your design and then whip stitching them together at the seams. I mentioned hexagon quilts before – this is a frequent shape-of-choice in English paper piecing. But you can go pretty crazy with the design, as long as it interlocks. Straight edges are easiest to work with, but not even that is a hard and fast rule.
Like other forms of hand sewing, EPP affords an awesome combo of precision and imperfection. Because you’re securing your fabric over paper before sewing, as long as it’s secured well your edge will be as precise as the paper you cut. You don’t have to sweat the seam allowances one bit. And at the same time, those teeny stitches make this awesome structured but jagged edge that lets the light shine through when nothing’s behind it (eeeeee I just love this shit). And it’s perfect if you’re a noob like me, because a little non-uniformity in the length or width of your stitches only makes it look cooler IMO
So here’s how you do it.
1. “Plan” your Pattern
I put “plan” in parentheses here because one of the nifty things about EPP is you don’t have to plan it beginning to end – as long as your pieces all fit together it doesn’t matter how you join them together in the end. So if you’re using hexagons, you can just baste a bunch and then use them like building blocks to plan your design when you’re putting them together. Fun!
But you do have to decide what shape or shapes you’re using, and get those shapes onto pieces of paper. If you want to use hexagons, here are some you can print on cardstock and cut out. For the circle in the center, you can punch a hole in the center with a hole punch. The purpose of this hole is to give you something to grab onto when you pull the paper out at the end, but because you often have to work it to get the seams detached from the paper anyway, I don’t always find the holes to be super necessary. Don’t sweat it if you don’t have a hole punch. Or you can just fold your shape over and cut a little “x” in the middle to serve the same function.
If you are fancy like me and you have a Silhouette vinyl cutting machine, here are some hexies to print out on your cutter: To save this file for use in Silhouette Studio, right click–>save link as–>change file type from .pdf to .studio3. Full disclosure, I’m pretty sure the hexagons go over the edge on both patterns, so if it really bothers you to make scores in your cutting mat, maybe tweak the pattern a little or go your own way. I just, I couldn’t be bothered guys. You’re on your own from here.
Another path you can go is to design your shapes to cut in whatever shape manipulating software you have – illustrator, silhouette studio, word, paint shop, mario paint, whatevs.
OR you can do what I did for the pieces I’m working on now and bust out a ruler and pencil old-school style. For mine, I’m actually piecing some cuffs for a pair of pants I’m sewing. I traced the cuff pattern piece onto regular printer paper and drew my design pattern inside. Then I used a little light tablet to trace the pattern pieces onto cardstock and cut them out with scissors.
If all of that stuff is sounding like a bridge too far, you can always buy precut hexies. Here’s some on Amazon.
2. Get your stuff together
Another thing I love about EPP is that it really doesn’t require that much stuff. All you really need is: needle, thread, your fabric, glue, paper, and a few helpful notions. Here are some deets on each:
Needle: I once read a super snarky review for a needle on Amazon that cracked me up. It was like “it has a pointy end and a hole so I’m good.” Yep. As long as the pointy end is pointy (in other words, not a blunted darning or tapestry needle), you’re good. But it does help to have needles that are extra pointy for EPP, especially since you’ll sometimes be pushing through the paper. You’re not “supposed” to do this I don’t think, but realistically it happens so it’s nice to have a good sharp needle to get through the paper and whatever fabric you’re using. I use these. I’m using vinyl right now, so I’m loving those sharps, but if you’re sloppy like me you might end up making little track marks on your lips and thumb. No pain no gain, guyz. I actually taped up my thumb after a while.
Thread: Use whatever you want here, dudes, or whatever you have. As in any sewing project, you should match the thread to your fabric if you want the stitches to be less visible. Personally, I think the stitches are the coolest part of EPP, so I think it’s bonkers to make them less visible. I used a wildly contrasting color for my project: specifically, highlighter yellow (see above). That bright bright thread has been super gratifying to sew with, especially on a sunny day.
Glue: A lot of people use glue sticks for basting their EPP, because they’re a good balance of strong and temporary, and the glue washes out easily. A lot of people have opinions about what glue stick to use, but I haven’t done much experimenting on this so I can’t tell you which is best. I will say that the Elmer’s glue sticks I’ve had lying around the house did the trick for easy laying cotton quilting fabric, but they weren’t great for the fussier, bulkier, or movier (you like my words) fabrics that I used.
For my project I found that the glue sticks I had weren’t cutting it on the vinyl at all. I switched over to another glue I had on hand, and if you’re a general purpose crafter or a a paper crafter I recommend that you get some immediately. This glue sets to a “tacky” hold very quickly, allowing you to do some repositioning before it hard sets but also allowing you to work at a reasonable speed.
Paper: I use cardstock. See the planning section above for info on getting your designs on paper.
Notions: You’re probably going to need a thimble for this. This is the one I have, and it’s been good to me. I wear it on my index finger and use the little divots to push my needle through the fabric. This is especially useful for getting through the thicker vinyl I’m using now, but I find it useful to have around no matter what fabric I’m using because like I said, you sometimes find yourself pushing through paper. There’s also a good chance you’ll need a seam ripper for this project. I’ve had many instances of sewing the wrong pieces together, or sewing the right pieces the wrong way. Anyway, if you’re a sewer who doesn’t need a seam ripper I should probably be reading your blog and not the other way around. Oh, and you need scissors, both for cutting your paper and for cutting the fabric. I also found craft clips very useful for this project. These are another one of those all-purpose tools I love for literally everything ever (literally), so if you don’t have some, get you some. You won’t regret it.
3. Cut it Out
Again, see the planning section above for some ideas for how to get your design onto paper and cut it out. As far as cutting goes, precision matters more in the paper cutting than in the fabric cutting, so try to cut your paper pieces precisely.
Next you cut the fabric to go around your paper. Place your cut pattern piece over the fabric and cut the fabric so that there’s about a quarter inch seam allowance around the edge of the shape – the allowance is the fabric you’ll be folding over the edge and basting. If you’re repeating the same shape, cut strips with about 1/4″ allowance around the edges and cut your strips into little modules for the basting. Whee!
This is another thing I love about EPP: you can apply your devil-may-care attitude to cutting when you get to cutting the fabric, because the allowances don’t really matter. They’re going to be folded over the edge of your shape on the wrong side of your design, so you just want enough extra fabric to go over the edge but not so much that it’s going to overlap a lot in the back and bulk up your design. And if the piece of fabric is a little too small in places and your allowance shrinks down to like an eighth of an inch you’re still probably cool, especially if you’re using an easy fabric or basting using glue.
If you’re using a printed fabric, make sure to consider where the print is on your pattern piece and what direction it’s facing, when cutting, basting and piecing.
If you’re making a design where you really do care what pieces and/or colors are where, it’s a good idea to cut your pieces more or less as you go so you don’t get them confused. Or if it’s useful you can make notations on their placement on the back of the paper piece, just make sure you make the notations in a place that won’t be covered by fabric.
4. Baste that Shit
Basting is temporarily affixing your fabric in place while you sew it, and in EPP you can do it using stitches or glue. Which you prefer in some cases is just a matter of like, what’s your thing. Some people are glue stick people and some are thread basting people. As for me, I will swing both ways; I really think it depends on the fabric and the shapes I’m using.
Thread Basting: If I’m using hexagons and quilting cotton, I think basting using thread is the way to go. It’s fast, entertaining, and way less messy than glue. Here’s how you do it: 1)First, whether basting using glue or thread, make sure that your piece is oriented the right way – that’s facing down on the wrong side of the fabric if you don’t want your design reversed. Obviously the orientation doesn’t matter so much if your shape is radially symmetrical, like a hexagon. 2)Next, fold over two adjoining edges of the fabric, and make a little stitch right at the corner where they join. 3) then, turn the piece and fold and stitch the next corner, repeating for as many corners as your shape has. That’s it. Repeat ad infinitum.
Glue “Basting”: If I’m using weird shapes and/or fussy or bulky fabric like the vinyl I’m using for this piece, glue is the way to go. See the “get your stuff together” section above for my glue experiments, and then conduct your own. I’d say start with glue sticks and go from there. If the fabric is giving me any trouble when the glue is setting, I use craft clips to hold it in place:
PS don’t worry about those little flaps hanging off the end if you’re doing triangles or what have you. These stay in the back of the fabric when the pieces are stitched together, so you don’t need to try to tuck them in or whatever when you’re basting.
5. Stitch that shit
This is the best part. Once your fabric is glued or stitched over your paper, line up your seams and then just whip stitch them together. A whip stitch “whips” around the top of both abutted seams. It looks like this:
You get the hang of it as you go, but you don’t really need to get the hang of it because it’s super easy and, like I said, it looks cool if the stitches aren’t super uniform. You’re aiming to go through the fabric at that seam and not the paper necessarily, but don’t stress too much if you catch the edge of the paper. It will essentially create a kind of perforation that you can tear out later. Just make sure you don’t go too far inside the edge of the paper, because then it might make a little trouble for you when you’re tearing it out.
I love how portable the sewing steps of EPP are, including the basting part if you’re thread basting. You can just throw your shapes in a baggie with some scissors and thread and sew them wherever you are! Don’t forget your thimble.
6. Finish it
Once your seams are sewn, pull the paper out of the back of your design. How easy this step is will depend on what glue you used and how much of the paper you caught in your whip stitches. Work carefully around stuck places to avoid tearing your stitches. If you’ve sewn through the paper, you want to make sure its the paper you’re tearing when you remove it and not the fabric or the stitches. Usually, though, this step isn’t too crazy difficult. Once the paper is out, you may want to hand wash your piece here, especially if you used glue. Or you might not, depending on your intentions for the finished piece.
If you’re going to be quilting your design, here’s where the quilting comes in. You’ll need to hit up another tutorial for that. In my case, I’ll be interfacing my pieced fabric and using it for the cuffs on a pair of pants. I’ll show you mine if you show me urs!! 😉 Here’s a shot of my cuffs so far:
So… I hope you down with EPP. It’s magical. But whatever you’re doing this year, I hope you have an awesome, safe National Quilting Day! Don’t get too crazy, people.