Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Quilt Class 101 - English Paper Piecing - Part 1

Wanna Make some Hexies??
Jane (Inchy Hexagon Gal), from Quiltjane is here with today, To teach us all about Paper Piecing these lovely Hexies!!! 
Today... Part 1 -  All about Paper Piecing..
Tomorrow?? Part 2 - A Paper Piecing Tutorial!

Welcome, I am Jane (aka Quiltjane) from Want it, Need it, Quilt. Rebecca has invited me here today to participate in her 101 quilting series to present English Paper Piecing (EPP).

There is so much to tell you about EPP that I could not possibly place it in one post so, I will start with the basics.
What is EPP?
EPP is a technique where the fabric is basted over precisely cut shapes. Then, using tiny whipstitches the shapes are sewn together.
Why is it useful?
EPP has been a technique used since the late 18th Century. Tiny scraps of unstable fabrics, such as silks, could be managed easily using this technique to produce intricate designs.

The EPP technique promotes accuracy. The paper template provides:
  • an accurate finished measurement for every piece made
  • takes the worry out of where to start and stop your seam intersections and
  • negates the errors in maintaining a perfect 1/4" seam allowance when sewing.
EPP is a technique that requires no special equipment. The basic tools for EPP are:
  • Papers
  • Template
  • Scissors / Un-picker
  • Needle, Thread, Thimble
  • Fabric
  • 2 Small Paper Clips
  • Pencil
Templates are traditionally made from paper. The cheapest and most accessible method. You can use copy paper, copy paper wrapping, magazines, junk mail flyers, light weight cardboard.
Although these days there are a few more alternatives to paper. Two I have used are:
  • Freezer Paper 
  • Floriani Stitch N Wash
Both are cut to the finished size of the piece and pressed to the back of the cut fabric. It removes one step from the overall process by  taking away the requirement to pin the template before basting. 

Another alternative is the mylar plastic hexagon templates. They are durable and can be reused over and over. They are made from heat resistant mylar plastic with a hole punched into the centre for ease of removal.
A nice sharp pair of scissors and an un-picker (yes, sometimes they are needed) for cutting threads and fabric.
I use a big eye between needle 10, 11. I find these needles assist me in getting a really small stitches. If you find holding the smaller needles gives you pain, try the 11 milliners needles.
Two types of thread are used in EPP. The first thread type is used for basting the fabric to the paper template. This thread can be any colour and any type ( Cotton or Polyester ). You will find that a heavier weight thread will be stronger for basting through many layers of fabric and paper.
The second thread type will be used for whip stitching the pieces together. The finer the thread, the less obvious the stitches. I use a matching thread in 50wt Masterpiece cotton. Another alternative is the 60wt Bottom Line polyester thread. Very fine and easy to use. (If you use bottom line, do not place a really hot iron on it for extended periods of time. It can soften the thread). Matching threads can be an expensive option. If the thread is very fine, you can get away with the basic neutrals of white, ivory, light grey, dark grey and a dull gold colour. They should blend with most fabrics. Always use white with white and black with black. If you like matching colours, Superior Threads have released the MasterPiece frosted Donuts with a bobbin full of a rainbow of colours. 

Glueing the fabric to the papers is now becoming a trend. I user this quick method often. The most important thing to remember when using glue is that it is a fabric glue, water soluble and non staining. Don't steam your finished pieces until you are ready to remove papers. Heat and steam will soften the glue and the fabric will lift. There is a short tutorial here using this method. 

If you do glue your papers and fabric, staining can occur if stored for a long period of time. Manufacturers cannot test their products on every fabric type, chemical in different fabrics, effects of light etc. I would recommend only using glue for short term projects and then washing the finished piece. I would never use glue or any other chemical on a show or heirloom quilt. 
This is the fun part. While you can use silks and linens for some texture, I always love working with cotton fabric. You can choose solids, small prints, large prints, stripes or dots. When you choose a fabric, look for its potential for how it will look in the finished block.

I love fussy cutting the fabric to produce repetitive and interesting designs for the hexagon petals. Lay your clear acrylic template over the fabric and imagine the possibilities that can be achieved by using different repeats in the fabric. 

Here is an example from Melody from the House on the Side of the Hill blog, who has fussy cut fabrics from French General and 3-Sisters fabric. Magnificent.
Joanne from PbPatch blog has used the same repeat in the fabric to make a Kaleidoscope affect ( 6 piece hexagon )
and these beautiful flowers...
The  good thing about EPP pieces they can all be different colours and fabrics to give it that real scrappy look.
If you cut your own papers, then you will require an acrylic template for that purpose and another one to cut the correct size for the fabric. There are many acrylic templates on the market. Some come in two parts: Others are single templates ( with or without seam allowance ):
Printed hexagons by the page can be downloaded from many sites. All you need to do it cut them out. Make sure you print at 100% with no scaling and do not fit to page.
When cutting papers or fabric, always make sure it is done consistently. Accuracy is important. Place silicon strips or sandpaper dots under the templates so they don't slip. Use a very sharp pencil when tracing.
Emerging on the market are affordable Die Cutters that provide a way to mass produce your own papers and cut fabrics. If that is not an option, there are many sites that provide pre-cut fabric in packages. Here in Australia I use Joanne from Pbpatch for my papers. I was excited to learn Joanne has just released pre-cut hexies in designer collections.
The wonderful thing about this technique is you can take it anywhere and leave the papers in for as long as you like for stability and storage.
It is also a very flexible technique. Unlike making a block by machine where the pieces and rows have to be added in sequence, EPP can be more forgiving and allow pieces to be slotted in afterwards. The best thing about EPP is that you never have to be afraid of Y-seams.

So........ Are you ready to try???
Pop back tomorrow for your step by step guide!!
Thanks so much Jane... xx



  1. Thank you Rebecca and Jane for a great post! I haven't tried these so I'm exited to see how EPP exactly happens!
    xxx Teje

  2. Just an FYI, the post says that mylar hexies can be 'refused' over and over again! Might want to change that to 're-used'! Great information!

  3. Whoa! My head is spinning with possibilities and ideas. Thanks for the informative tutorial.

  4. Fun!!! I can't wait for the step-by-step guide!!

  5. I would love to try hexies. Looking forward to the next post!

  6. Hexie's kind of frighten me. Looks like you have a good tutorial underway to demystify the process.

  7. Thank you for such a great post! I am really excited about making some hexies.

  8. I am completely in love with hexagons... I havn't done fussy cut hexies yet.. give me some time and it will probably happen :) I'm currently hand quilting my first hexagon quilt, and paper piecing my 2nd. :)

  9. really comprehensive overview of hexies - thanks Jane and Bec - will have to join in the fun now as I have lots of little scraps just calling out to be used :)

  10. Great intro! Thanks for the tip about needles, too.

  11. I've always wanted to try hexies, but I'm still too chicken. I'll check back tomorrow. Thanks for the great tutorial!

  12. How wonderful to feature fabulous Jane on your blog. She is so talented and her Want It, Need It, Quilt on-line shop is brilliant. I'm thrilled too that her participation has led my to your blog. It is outstanding. I plan to visit for every post.

  13. I am a new follower! Great tut. will be back for part 2!


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