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 Quilting Techniques : English Paper Piecing Guide

English Paper Piecing is a traditional quilting technique dating back at least to 1813. Unlike Paper Foundation Piecing, this method is done entirely by hand.

Although it does take time, English Paper Piecing makes it much easier to match the corners and angles of some shapes. Patterns involving hexagons, diamonds, stars or baby-blocks are the best candidates. Since working with these shapes can otherwise be awkward, this can be the method of choice for accurate, convenient construction. Block patterns that work well with English Paper Piecing include Grandmother's Flower Garden, Apple Core, Garden Star and both Round and Oval Mariner's Compass. As these blocks require some skills to assemble, English Paper Piecing is a technique best suited for intermediate and seasoned quilters.

This piecing technique involves pinning each quilt piece to a corresponding paper pattern piece. The paper strengthens the fabric and acts as a sewing guide. Pieces are then stitched together to form patterns. When assembly is complete, the paper may be torn away to reduce bulk. Ironically, some historical quilts made in this manner still contain paper to this day. It is thought the paper provided an additional layer of insulation and warmth.

Benefits of English Paper Piecing

There are two considerable benefits to using this technique. The most obvious plus is convenient piecing of awkward shapes. Some shapes, such as hexagons and diamonds, can be tricky to piece accurately, and the smallest misalignment in one area throws off an entire pattern. English Paper Piecing both bolsters your fabric and provides an accurate sewing edge so that alignment is consistently on the mark.

The second benefit of English Paper Piecing is the convenience of portability. Quilts made in this fashion can be constructed in modular units. Projects are easily transportable since little equipment is needed beyond fabric pieces, needle, thread and a thimble. Portable projects are more likely to be completed quickly; yet another bonus.

Materials Needed

- adequate amounts of fabric
- paper pattern pieces (one for each piece of an entire quilt)
- 2 pairs scissors (one pair each for paper and fabric)
- needle
- thread
- thimble

How to do English Paper Piecing

Regardless of the shapes you are working up, the steps of English Paper Piecing remain the same.

- Place a paper pattern piece on the fabric's reverse side.
- Pin in place.
- Trim fabric to provide a quarter inch seam allowance.
- Turn down excess fabric over the paper's edge
- Use scissors to miter any corners, if necessary, so that the fabric lies flat against the paper.
- Baste fabric in place.
- Repeat for all remaining shapes.
- Align the edges of your pieces, right sides together.
- Join the pieces by whipstitching in place.
- Repeat using all remaining shapes.
- Remove basting stitches.
- Tear the paper away from blocks surrounded on all edges by shapes sewn into place.

Tips for Best Results

English Paper Piecing does take some time since the technique is done entirely by hand. There are a few tricks you should know to save time and yield the best results, however.

- Use a different pair of scissors for your paper and fabric pieces. For best results, cut material with scissors reserved for that purpose, otherwise the edge will dull quickly.
- Paper pieces may also be cut with a rotary cutter. As with the scissors, do not use a cutter normally used for fabric. Have one for each purpose.
- Staple layers of paper together to cut multiple pieces at one time. The paper will not shift and cutting is done faster.
- Use copy or typing paper. It is sturdy enough to support the fabric, yet tears away with little difficulty.
- Use fresh paper for each project. Paper loses its ability to support the fabric properly when used repeatedly.
- Keep the fabric's grain in the same direction throughout your project. Mark each paper shape with a directional arrow to aid placement.

Related : More Quilting Techniques - Paper Piecing- General Piecing Information

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