How to: English Paper Piecing

English paper piecing finished product and supplies

 Stacy Fisher

English paper piecing is a great way to add interesting elements to a quilt or sewing project. Unlike traditional patchwork piecing, you can use paper templates to help you get shapes like hexagons, triangles, and diamonds.

Also called EPP, English Paper Piecing is easy to learn and is more forgiving than traditional piecing because you don't need to worry so much about consistent seam allowances. By using the paper templates you'll get a precise shape that will fit perfectly into your design.

Gather Your Supplies and Materials

Supplies needed for English Paper Piecing
Stacy Fisher 

Here's what you'll need to learn how to English paper piece:

  • Fabric (light-weight cotton works best)
  • Needle and Thread
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Marking Pen or Rotary Cutter
  • Iron
  • Glue Stick or Sewing Pins
  • English Paper Piecing Templates

Choose a Template

You'll need a template for English paper piecing, and you'll use it in two ways: to cut your fabric and to baste to your fabric so you can attach the pieces together.

Sometimes acrylic templates are used for cutting the fabric and then the paper templates are used for basting. It's also okay to use the paper template for cutting as I've done here.

These templates come in all different shapes and sizes. Hexagon (like used in this tutorial), is the most popular shape but there are also diamonds, wedges, circles, clamshells, triangles, and more.

Prepare the Templates

In this tutorial, I'll be using a 1" hexagon paper template courtesy of Love Patchwork & Quilting, but you can use any size you'd like. Print off the paper templates and carefully cut around as many templates as you'd like to use.

Cut Your Fabric

Cutting hexagons for English paper piecing
Stacy Fisher

Now it's time to cut your fabric to fit your template. You can use your templates to do this. Take one of the paper templates and place it on the wrong side of the fabric. Secure with a glue stick or sewing pins. This will make sure that it doesn't move around while you're cutting.

Leave a 1/4-inch seam allowance around the template before cutting. You can mark the lines with a ruler but as you get more practice, you'll be able to get that seam allowance just by eyeing it. Continue cutting your fabric until you get the number of hexagons you like.

Attach the Template to the Fabric

Before you baste your fabric around the paper template, you'll need to attach it first. You can use a sewing pin or small amount of glue from a glue stick do this.

Fold Your Fabric Around the Template

Creasing the edges of the hexagons
Stacy Fisher

Fold the fabric inside along the sides of the hexagon. Finger press them to make a crease. Work your way all the way around.

Baste Your Pieces

You'll now need to baste your fabric pieces to the paper piece. You can do this with a glue stick or with a needle and thread.

Glue Baste

Glue basting is a really easy way to English paper piece. Just dab a little bit of a glue stick to the edges of the paper template and then fold the fabric over and finger press to secure. It's a quick way to baste in English paper piecing but you may find that it doesn't hold as well as you'd like. If you prefer, you can thread baste as outlined below.

Glue basting hexagons for English paper piecing
Stacy Fisher 

Thread Baste

Another way to baste in English paper piecing is to use a threaded needle and backstitch to secure the fabric edges down. These are temporary stitches so you don't need to be perfect with them.

Beginning on a folded corner, go from right to left, pushing the needle through both flaps of the fabric. Be sure not to stitch through the paper.

Stitching through a corner flap
Stacy Fisher

Repeat this stitch again, in the same place.

Sewing a backstitch
Stacy Fisher 

Move the next corner and make another backstitch, just as you did before.

Sewing the second corner
Stacy Fisher

Work your way all around the hexagon continuing to backstitch the corners. When you're finished knot off your thread. Make at least two of these before moving onto the next step.

A thread basted hexagon
Stacy Fisher

Sew the Pieces Together

Place two hexagons right side together. Start at one corner with your needle and thread and whipstitch them together. Be sure not to catch the paper template when you're stitching. Stop and knot your thread when you reach the end. No need to cut the thread if you're attaching another hexagon to the edge that you are going to stitch next.

Sewing together two EPP hexagons
Stacy Fisher 

I've used a contrasting thread here so you can see the stitches better. Be sure to use a matching thread so the stitches blend in with your fabric.

Continue Sewing

Pressed hexagons
Stacy Fisher 

Keep attaching the hexagons together using the whip stitch. When you've attached them all, give it a gentle press with a dry iron.

Remove the Paper Templates

Removing the paper templates
 Stacy Fisher

Remove the paper templates by gently pulling them out of the hexagons. If you have trouble, try folding the paper and removing it or using a tip of a pencil to lift the templates out.

Finish Your Project

Give your English paper piecing project a nice press with your iron. Remove any basting stitches that are visible. Now you can add these lovely shapes to any of your projects to have an eye-catching, contrasting texture, color, or fabric.