Saturday, March 3, 2012

Things I'm Learning About English Paper Piecing

I've posted previously about my Grandmother's Flower Garden project here and here. And I've been learning things! Little tricks that make English Paper Piecing easier.

1. Needles Matter

Ever since SisterStitches gave me my first packet of Clover Black Gold needles, I've loved them! I use the quilting needles for quilting (of course!), and the applique/sharps for any intricate hand work. I can't say enough about these needles. They are very fine, and very sharp. When you don't want your stitches to show, as in hand piecing or appliqué, these are the needles to use.

2. Pressing

I press a lot when doing this kind of work. Of course, I press any wrinkles out of the fabric to begin with. That simply makes them easier to handle.

Then I press after I have basted the fabric pieces to the papers. At first I was using a dry iron, but lately I've been using Mary Ellen's Best Press. I like the nice sharp, crisp edges I get on the hexagons. This should lead to better accuracy when sewing two hexagons together.

Ed. 3/20/18  If you are using the glue method to baste, I'm not sure if I would press afterwards or not.  It might make the glue more permanent, that's my fear.  And it may not be as necessary.  But I really like pressing when I'm using thread to baste.

And I also press a section when it is all sewn together, and before I remove any of the papers.

3. Pinning the paper to the fabric

I'm not sure where I read this, but it helps things a lot to pin the fabric hexagon to the paper prior to basting. That keeps the edges a little more even on the back side, making sure that I stay centered on the paper.

4. A small binder clip for holding the hexagons together

This is a great idea! I use a small binder clip to hold together the two hexagons that I am sewing at the moment. As you can see in the photo above, I was able to put this clip off to the side, holding the shapes together and leaving my entire seam open to sewing. Sometimes, however, the clip goes part way on top of the seam I'm sewing. I simply remove it when I get to that point.

5. Thread

Another love I have is for very fine thread. Here is my collection of threads I keep in my English Paper Piecing bag. They are all either Bottom Line by Libby Lehman, or So Fine!, both by Superior Threads. The Bottom Line is a 60 weight thread, and the So Fine! that I'm using is a 50 weight. If your thread takes up less space, presumably you can get a more accurate seam. It does tend to tangle if the tail is left too long, so I have to work with a "tidy" amount of thread.

6. Template for cutting

SisterStitches gave me this idea, which is to cut a plastic template with the seam allowances added for drawing the fabric shapes. Some people simply use a square of fabric to baste to the papers. But I like the neatness of having a hexagonal piece of fabric to baste to a hexagonal piece of paper. The beauty is that you can make the template the size of your paper hexagon plus the "seam allowance" amount that gets folded over and basted to the back of the paper. At first I used a template that added 1/4" to my paper size. But I soon cut another template that had 3/8" added. That gives me a little more fabric to hang onto when I'm basting the fabric to the paper.

Also, an indelible pen is a must. I once tried a ball point pen, which totally messed up my plastic template. And any ink that is not permanent could bleed when it gets sprayed and ironed.

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Maybe I'll figure out some more good tricks as I go along. If you have any tricks or tips to share with me, please let me know!


  1. Jan, this is all so clear and helpful, would you please by my guest instructor next fall? Sorry, we don't pay mileage, but you get all the fabric scraps you want! How can you turn down an offer like that?

  2. Wow! This is very flattering! Thanks, I'll keep it in mind.

  3. Those Clover Black Gold sharps sound wonderful. I love a good fine needle. I'll have to look for them...

  4. I haven't tried Clover Black sharps, but when James ones I use, stop doing the trick, I'll check into them. I never thought of that neat little trick of the binder clip. I just wanted to say, would you be interested in a paper piecing quilt along. I'm thinking of doing one on my blog?


  5. Wondering where I can find those Clover Black Golds - I will be looking for them in Raleigh next trip to town. Thank you for the review of them as I think I need them. Judy C in NC

  6. Forgot to say that I love your Life Is Too Short list... Judy C

  7. Judy, I haven't found the needles in every store, so sometimes I order them from Amazon. Good luck!

  8. Hi
    Some time ago a friend suggested a method of English paper piecing that I have used now for years and find very easy. Double a very small piece of scotch tape and adhere it to the center of the paper piece, then simply attach the piece to the fabric. It holds the piece perfectly in place, no pin holes in the fabric, and it separates very easily without snagging the fabric.I hope this is a useful tip.
    Trish P.

  9. Thanks Trish. I definitely will try this idea. Sometimes the pin does get in my way or poke my finger.

  10. I've only just started English paper piecing, but one tip I've read a few places is to use a glue pen to adhere your fabric to your template, and to hold down the edge as you sew. Sewline makes a good glue pen.

  11. I use a hole punch to punch a hole in the centre of my paper piece which I then pin the fabric through to hold in place while I baste. I am loving using the thread from Magna Glide Classic prewound bobbins, doesn't twist or shred as much as Bottomline. My new favourite needles are Tulip #10 Big Eye Applique.

  12. I have cut out the middle of my plastic temolate the size of my hexi .it makes it so much easier to fussy cut.