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English Paper Piecing

A perfect way to quilt-on-the go, you'll love the ease of hand stitching with paper templates.

  • Stabilize the Fabric with Paper Templates

    English paper piecing, a technique of stabilizing fabric with a paper template, is a sure way to guarantee accuracy. It is most effective for designs that don’t have long straight sides but do have numerous set-in corners, such as the hexagon shapes in a Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt.

    Many precut paper templates are available through quilt shops and by mail order. If you wish to make your own templates, trace the pattern on a sturdy paper multiple times and cut out carefully and accurately.

  • Make and Baste the Templates

    Pin a paper template to one or more layers of fabric. Cut out around the template with a 1/4" seam allowance. Your seam allowance does not have to be exact because the template will be an accurate guide.

    Place a template right side down on the wrong side of a fabric piece and fold the seam allowance over one edge. Beginning with a knot on the right side of the fabric, baste the seam allowance in place; stitch through the fabric and the paper template with 1/4"-long stitches. Finger-press the basted edge.

    Repeat steps 2 and 3 until all fabric pieces have been basted to paper templates.

  • Approaching the Corner

    As you approach a corner, fold the seam allowance of the next edge over the template and continue stitching. Stitch all edges in the same manner. Don’t knot the thread as you finish, but do leave a thread tail of about 1/2" or so on the fabric’s right side.

  • Pinning Two Templates Together

    Place two fabric-covered templates with right sides together, aligning the edges to be joined. Pin the pieces together at the center.

  • Begin Stitching

    With a single strand of quilting thread, begin stitching about 1/8" from one corner using tiny whipstitches and catching a thread of both fabric folds. You’ll feel the paper templates with your needle, but do not stitch through them.

  • Reaching the Corner

    Backstitch to the nearest corner. Once you reach the corner, reverse the direction of your stitching and sew across the edges to the opposite corner. Take a backstitch, and knot the thread with the knot in the fabric using a backstitch loop knot.

  • Pressing the Seams

    Lightly press open the joined pieces and check the seam from the right side. Stitches should not show. If they do, take smaller whipstitches through less of the fabric folds as you sew.

  • Setting In Pieces

    To set in a piece, pin and sew the seam on one side. Reposition the stitched pieces so the next seam is aligned and continue sewing.

  • Remove the Templates

    When all edges of a piece have been stitched to adjoining pieces, remove the paper template, pulling the basting threads and templates out from the back. Press.

  • Projects to Practice English Paper Piecing Technique

    Quilt 1
    Brimming with old-fashioned charm, this hand-pieced quilt is made with scraps of assorted 1930s reproduction fabrics using the English paper piecing method. This method is great for on-the-go projects since the paper templates eliminate the need for marking 1/4" seam allowances.

    Quilt designer: Tess Herlan
    Quilt name: Garden Lattice, American Patchwork & Quilting, April 2002

    Quilt 2
    Here’s another English paper piecing design for a small quilt which you can use to cover a favorite doll or hang on the wall of a baby’s room. Each fabric shape is basted to a paper pattern that’s removed after the shapes are hand-stitched together.

    Quilt designer: Tess Herlan
    Quilt name: Quilting Ideas, Winter 2002