Saturday, November 21, 2015

6 Must Have Tools for English Paper Piecing

English paper piecing is hands down my favorite way to sew/quilt for a many reasons.
Here are just a few:
1. I can sit on the couch (or anywhere for that matter) while doing it.
2.  I love piecing itty bitty pieces of fabric by hand that I know wouldn't enjoy piecing on my machine.
3. I love fussy cutting and find it easier to match up fussy cuts when piecing by hand than as opposed to with my machine.
4. I love the shapes that I can easily create with EPP and I love that I can piece them with total precision. (If I were to try these shapes on my machine, I know I would be ripping seams out and feeling frustrated.)

I've been doing EPP for just over 3 years and I am totally hooked. I started with hexagons in my Grandmother's Flower Garden Quilt. (still a work in progress) I am a little over half way done with my queen sized quilt. I only work on it a couple times a year. One of these days I need to get it out and work on it until it's all done before I work on my other projects!

Hexagons are such a simple shape to start with. I love them. I am using 1 1/2 inch hexagons in my flower garden quilt. 

Then I came across a fun quilt on IG called the La Passacaglia. (Search the #lapassacaglia hashtag on IG and you will find the most amazing creations!) I started making mine just over a year ago. I am about 1/3  of the way with piecing the top and I am having to much fun. 
Here's a current progress shot as of today:

After thousands of hours (i'm being totally serious when I say thousands), I have come up with 6 tools that are "must haves" in my book for English Paper Piecing. 

#1- Pre cut paper pieces. 
I know that some people swear by cutting their own papers and save lots of money doing that, but in my opinion the money spent on perfectly precut papers is worth it. Let me tell you why. 
A. English paper piecing is labor intensive. It takes lots of time to cut your fabric, baste/glue the fabric to the paper pieces, and then sew them together. Adding another step (cutting paper) to that, makes an already long process longer. I know some people invest in diecutters and other machines to help them cut their pieces- and if that works for you- awesome! For now, I am sticking with ordering my pieces and not having to mess with cutting anything out.  
B. One of the things that makes EPP look so amazing is that each shape is precise and fits together like a puzzle. Mis-shaped pieces can alter that and make the process less enjoyable if you are trying to fit pieces together that aren't matching up, which is likely to happen due to human error. Maybe it's just me, but I can't cut the same shape, multiple times, exactly the same no matter how hard I try. I like to leave that to the professional paper cutting people... (and just in case you were wondering- they aren't paying me to say that. It's just my opinion. You can find paper pieces from multiple sources, but the only ones I have ever tried are by so those are the only ones I feel comfortable recommending) 
C. With a project like the La Passacaglia, there are thousands and thousands of pieces in it. If I had to worry about trying to cut all of those and make sure they were exactly the right size, I'd go crazy! It's a crazy enough project to begin with. Having a pack of pre cut papers show up at my door makes tackling this quilt doable (in my opinion).

ok... I think you get my drift. 

Oh man... these are a lifesaver for me and they go hand in hand with the pre cut paper pieces. These are thick acrylic shapes that match the papers you are using, but they add a seam allowance to the shape. Plus they are see through, so you can easily cut your fabric and see exactly what you are cutting.
Which leads me to my next tool...

#3- Rotary cutter
This is another MUST for EPP in my book. I cut all of my fabric with the help of my rotary cutter and acrylic templates. It ensures that each piece is nicely and uniformly cut. I like this rotary cuter by Olfa best. 

#4- Elmer's Disappearing Purple Glue Stick
When I started doing my hexagons, I was thread basting the fabric to the papers and it worked great, but it took about double the time as glue basting. SO many people kept telling me to try glue, but for some reason I just didn't want to.... Until I started my La Pass. I knew that there was no way I was going to be able to thread baste those tiny shapes. So I ordered a Sewline glue pen. At over $6 a pop I was a little worried about the cost of this huge project and how many I would go through. 
I loved the Sewline glue pen and loved the feel of the glue, but after a couple refills, my wallet was begging me to look for other options. After doing a bit of research and asking some trusted EPP friends, I decided to try the purple Elmer's glue sticks. I wasn't sure at first, but after a couple tries I was hooked. Being totally honest, I still love the feel of the Sewline pens the very best, but not enough to spend ten times the amount per glue stick. 
Around Christmas time last year, I found a crazy clearance at Walmart for packages of 2 Elmer's glue sticks for the price of... wait for it... 10 cents. That means that each glue stick was 5 cents. It had to be a mistake right?? But sure enough, I grabbed all that were there (about 10 packs) and took them up to the check out. I got 20 glue sticks for $1. It is hands down the best sale I have ever gotten in my life. I've been using them for almost a year now and have only gone through a couple packages. I'm set for a long time! ;)
So after working with these glue sticks, I can tell you that I have fully tested them out enough to give you the recommendation of using them. Just apply a small amount about 1/8" away from the edge of the paper piece on each side and fold your fabric back to the glue to secure. When it's time to remove your papers, I've found that a quick pass of a hot iron over the fabric helps to warm the glue up a bit and makes for easier paper removal. (but honestly if I am in a hurry, my papers come out just fine without doing this step too.)
Whew... that testimonial was a little long- sorry!

My sweet friend Mary Dugan of Molly Flanders + Sunny Day Supply recommended these to me. I had been piecing for hours and my fingers were throbbing. She told me about these amazing needles that whip through the fabric like butter... so I ordered some. Oh my heck you guys!! They are hands down the most life changing sewing supply I own. I can not even tell you how easily they go through the fabric. They are so thin... Like super duper thin, so pushing them through time after time is effortless. I am a convert- never again will I use another needle for EPP. Plus they are $2.10 for a pack of 10. Please run... do not walk... to the nearest place that carries these needles and buy some! You can thank me later. ;)

#6- YLI Silk Thread 
This is a supply that is very much debated in the EPP world. Some people swear that you should use cotton thread since you are using cotton fabric, some say polyester is best because it is strong and doesn't break, the list goes on and on... but you can bet that the answer will vary person to person.
 Here is my experience.
I started my EPP with Aurifil cotton thread because it is the superior thread in my opinion when it comes to sewing with my machine. I love it, so I figured I would love it with my EPP too. WRONG. My thread was getting so tangled and snapping like you wouldn't believe. I was so frustrated with it. So in a pinch I switched over to a basic Coats and Clark poly thread that I had on hand. It was fine, but I found it hard to hide my stitches when I was using it. (sidenote: After trying different method of EPP, I have settled on the Whipstitch. It works best for me and just feels more natural to me than other methods.) 
So I decided to try something else. I did some more research and settled on the Superior Bottomline 60 wt polyester thread. It is pretty near un-snapable, and I've never had it tangle on me. YAY!! So in that sense, it is such a great thread to work with. But I was still having problems with hiding my stitches. Darn! After more research and asking around, someone suggested using YLI 100 wt silk thread. I ordered some and right off the bat, it was snapping easier than the bottomline, but not as bad as the aurifil. It doesn't tangle though with is great. After getting a feel for it and it's "snapping point" I found that if I was gentle with it, I could easily hid my stitches with better results than the other threads I had tried. Yahoo! Most of my stitches are pretty much invisible with this silk thread. Since it's 100 wt, it's super fine and just blends into the fabric as long as you are using a similar color to the fabric you are using.
So- to be honest, this is the supply that I am still kinda on the fence about. I love the durability of the Bottomline thread, but I love the result of the YLI silk. So I think I will go back and forth between threads depending on the project I am making. For the La Passacaglia, the YLI silk thread is my choice. For my Flower Garden quilt, I am using white fabric around each flower and don't really have to worry as much about hiding my stitches as much, so I think I will stick with the Bottomline. 

So there you have it.... 6 must have tools for English Paper Piecing, according to yours truly! :)

Hope this helps!! 
Happy Sewing!!
xoxo, Ashley


  1. What is the difference between the purple glue stick and the white or blue? I bought a ton of the other during back to school and I'm wondering if I could use it.

  2. love your tips & suggestions. I read somewhere about somebody making their own refills for the sewlines using the purple elmers.... wish I could remember where I saw that???

  3. this is great! I will definitely use all your tips and tricks from this post! The progress on your quilts is so fun to see, btw!

  4. So helpful. Thanks! I've seen two different ways to baste, and they both used thread even though one used glue before thread basting. So you're not using thread at all? Do you use clips to hold down your glue basting until it dries? Sorry to ask so many questions.

  5. Interesting post. A friend sent me the link. I've been EPP since the late 80s, and I love it, too. I'm 100% with you on the papers! Even on Barbara Brackman's Hexathon, I've been ordering the pieces from Paper Pieces. Too much rides on having them fit perfectly. I've been using the Bohin glue pen, which has refills that are cheaper, but nothing beats your Wal-Mart buy. =) I don't like the way some glues stretch the fabric, but I'll give the purple Elmer's a try when this batch of glue pen stuff runs out. Thanks for the idea. I love milliner's needles, too, but usually use a 9 because the eye is more visible. It's a needle I had around for crazy quilting. Because the eye is straight, not wider than the needle, as is the case with other needle types, it works better stitches. I still use cotton thread, but I don't have tangling problems. =) Thanks for the interesting post.


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I honestly love reading every single one! If you have a question you would like answered- be sure to include your email so that I can get back to you!

Thanks so much for stopping by! Have a great day!
xoxo, Ashley