The first step in creating an EPP block is preparing your shapes for sewing. A little review, English Paper Piecing, aka EPP, is a method of sewing patchwork which uses paper to create a desired form with fabric and then those shapes are sewn together by hand. Once your shape is sewn on all sides, you remove the paper and finish the project like you would any quilt or sewing project.
Basting is temporarily attaching your fabric to the paper template. There are two methods to baste your shapes for EPP, with thread or with glue. I greatly prefer glue basting for EPP so that is what I’ll be going over here. Glue basting is quicker, and for me, more accurate as I can get the fabric tighter to the paper shape which keeps my corners sharp and work flatter. A few quick swipes with your gluepen you’ll have a pile of colorful shapes ready to be stitched together.
Paper Templates for English Paper Piecing
If you are using a pattern, it will detail all the shapes you need or may even come with a set of papers. Or you can just pick a shape and start creating a pile of pieces to play with. Hexagons are popular for a reason! I prefer the speed and accuracy of using precut papers for english paper piecing, but you can absolutely create your own by using a punch, printing and cutting out with scissors or even using a cricut. The ideal paper is heavier than copy paper but still flexible so you can bend it to sew in any direction you need. Y seams are not scary with EPP!
Quilting Hack: Punch a hole in the center of the paper template for easier removal later with a tool like a purple thang or crochet hook. I often don’t punch a hole and it hasn’t been an issue but it does make it even easier if I take the time!
One thing to note, most shapes are measured along one side. For so example a 1" hexagon has 6 sides that measure 1" but is 2" from point to point.
Cutting Fabric for English Paper Piecing
Your fabric will be cut bigger than your paper template to add seam allowance. I find working with a ⅜” seam allowance easiest, to allow some extra wiggle room for glue basting.
If I’m cutting multiple pieces from one fabric I use my rotary cutter to cut strips and then subcut using an acrylic template in the correct size. If you don’t have a template in the right size you can also use a small ruler to measure around your shape and add seam allowances. Or, eyeball it! The nice thing about EPP is the paper keeps the shape for you, so the seam allowance not being exact isn’t a deal breaker.
If I’m fussy cutting (aligning a certain motif within the shape) I will often trace around my template with a marking pen and cut it out with scissors. I love precuts for EPP because I only need a small bit of each print for my scrappy quilts. I also cut a ton of pieces from actual scraps because my EPP aesthetic is “more is more” and scraps are perfect for EPP!
Glue Basting for English Paper Piecing
Center the paper shape on your cut fabric. Starting on one side, work in one direction around the shape, putting a small line of glue next to the edge of the paper and folding the fabric onto the paper over the glue. You may have to hold it in place for a few seconds to fully adhere. Avoid gluing directly onto the edge of the paper as it will make the next step of stitching in this area more difficult.
Some shapes with acute angles such as diamonds will have little flags of fabric on the corners. This is normal, do not cut those off! If you always start basting your shapes from the same side and direction, all your flags will face the same direction and thus nest together and help your work align and lay flatter once you are sewing.
Done! Basting is as easy as that. I like to cut & baste my pieces in small batches, rather than cutting out the entire quilt at once. This way I have time to fussy cut if I like and I don’t get bored- I can hop to any part of the process that appeals to me at that time. I might prep all the pieces for a block or two and then pop them into a baggie or in my EPP folio I keep in my purse so I have blocks to work on while I’m out and about!