How-to: English Paper Piecing Project

comments (17) September 5th, 2008     

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MaryRay Mary Ray, contributor
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Many-sided shapes are easy to piece with the English paper piecing method.
Pin each paper template to the wrong side of the fabric and cut, allowing a 1/4-inch seam.
Fold the seam allowance over the edge of the paper and baste.
Many-sided shapes are easy to piece with the English paper piecing method.

Many-sided shapes are easy to piece with the English paper piecing method.

Photo: Mary Ray
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The most common quilt patterns that employ English paper piecing are Grandmother's Flower Garden (I love this sweet example at Pink Lemonade Boutique) and Tumbling Blocks (which was often pieced with silk and velvet scraps). Each is a one-patch quilt made up of one shape, a hexagon and diamond, respectively. Other shapes, like triangles, can be pieced this way, too, as long as they fit side by side. The pieces are small, so it's a great way to use scraps and sew them randomly together. Of course, you can build a design into the quilt by using three or four different fabrics in a repetitive pattern.

I must admit, hand-piecing has never been my favorite thing to do-I love my sewing machine. Because this method is so much a part of the history of quilting and still popular today, I thought I should at least show how it's done even though it's been a long time since I learned it myself. Once I started cutting and sewing these little shapes together, I was hooked. It's a great take-along project. Today's fabulous fabrics give it a modern twist, and you don't have to do a whole quilt. You can create smaller items like the Flower Garden table mat I made to show the step-by-step process.

Use paper templates to create uniform fabric patches.


• Three different fabrics (some scraps or a fat quarter each will do for the hexagons, plus a 13-inch square for the backing)

• Printed paper shapes (you can download a sheet of hexagons here and print them out; my hexagons are 1.25 inches)

Print out a sheet of hexagon shapes on paper to use as templates.

• 3/8 yard of firm fusible interfacing like Pellon's Decor Bond

• Needle and thread

• Scissors, pins, and an iron


1. Cut out the paper shapes and pin to the wrong side of each fabric. You'll need seven of one fabric and six each of the other two.

2. Cut out the fabric using the paper as a guide, adding a 1/4-inch seam allowance all around.

Pin each paper template to the wrong side of the fabric and cut, allowing a 1/4-inch seam.

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Comments (17)

EchoLin writes: i'll give it a try.
Posted: 3:51 am on March 28th
CrystalDyes writes: I have found an easier and less painful method of making the smaller hexagons by EPP. There is a new product out called Wonder Clips that are very tiny clips that I use to hold everything in place while I stitch. NO PINS!!! I use templates that are made from card-stock. I cut my fabric with about a 3/8" allowance and begin by folding one edge over and placing the clip over the fabric & paper. I form the "corners" of the hexs and put clips on 2 or 3 them. Using a long milliners needle and a single thread, I anchor the first corner by sewing only thru the fabric. Then I carry the thread across to the next corner and make 2 stitches in it to anchor it. You use your needle to neatly tuck the corners in as you go. Continue all around, removing clips as you come to them. After anchoring the last corner, I clip the thread. This has the advantage of keeping your folded edge right where you want it. When I have joined my hexs, I simply pop out the card-stock templates with an awl or other slim pointed tool. No removing the stitching or fighting with the paper to stitch thru it.
When I stitch the hexs together, I don't use a whipstitch. I use a locking hemstitch that I learned when I was hemming skirts as a seamstress (not the X stitch). It keeps all the thread on the wrong side and locks each stitch as you make it. The front side looks as tho you used a running stitch just like any other handsewn pieced block
Posted: 11:20 pm on March 29th
LaceyJ1204 writes: I have some pre-cut hexes that I plan on working with after I finish my dreden plate. I love hand's like therapy for me...LOL.

Posted: 5:43 pm on February 25th
marks1009 writes: I made this years ago, using scraps from dresses I had made in high school and college, so it's a real 'memory' quilt!

Thoughts on finishing edges:
1) cut hexagons in half (point to point), finish the short edges like the whole hexagons, and sew into the gaps to make a straight edge, then bind with long strips (I used green like the 'paths' between my flowers).
2) cut long strips with the same 'saw tooth' pattern as the edge of the quilt, put the strip right side down on top of the quilt, and sew like the facing of a blouse by following along the edges, and turning carefully in each corner. Turning the corners will be tricky -- might want to add interfacing to make the points a little stiffer. Be sure to trim across the corners and clip the inside 'V's, as you would a shirt collar. You'll want to top stitch/quilt close to the edge to keep everything in place.

Posted: 4:21 pm on August 8th
nazianz writes: I am making a Grand Mothers Flower Garden quilt. I have made the "flowers" 18 pieces around the last row. I want to connect the flowers without a border around each one. I want to sew them to each other to creat a different look. Can anyone tell me how to connect these and come out even??? Thanks
Posted: 3:12 pm on July 21st
Eternal_Clouds writes: i love it cant wait to try it out
Posted: 10:48 am on March 8th
PatInLondon writes: I made a baby quilt using the Grandmother's flower garden (and plastic hexagons which can be reused), and it was great. Love the hand piecing and hand quilting. But I am having a diffuclt time binding it as I did not make it with straight edges. Any advice, please? Thank you!!
Posted: 9:19 am on February 13th
iHanna writes: Thank you, it's a great tutorial and a fun way to use paper-piecing that will not be a big quilt (not a good starting point...). I've recently made several balls using paper-piecing and you can find my tutorial and pattern here

How to handsew a patchwork ball! Enjoy!
Posted: 5:44 pm on September 15th
pauleena writes: I'm inspired. I am a real hand stitcher. Your instructions are beautiful. I am going to try this in taffeta. Yes!
Posted: 8:28 pm on September 14th
Char50 writes: Instead of having to print out and cut out all the hexagons,
you can buy a package of 50 reusable mylar hexagons that can be popped out after stitching. This is one link I found to them.

Posted: 1:08 pm on September 14th
AuntB93 writes: Re-reading the instructions, I note that the fusable interfacing was specific to that project. Yes, it's probably pretty sensible in that use. Sorry if I've misled anyone.
Posted: 8:54 pm on September 13th
AuntB93 writes: Irranch, the easiest way to finish off the edges is to whip-stitch them together just as you did for the piecing. I made a few smaller projects using hexagons, and that's what I did. Just be sure the saw-tooth edges are on the sides, and put half-hexagons in the spaces at top and bottom to make a smooth edge where it will go under your chin.

By the way, I have two differences with the person who did the illustrations.

(1) I never used fusible interfacing for a paper-piece project. Instead, I just basted the pieced motif to the background fabric, papers and all. Then appliqued it into place. When it was completely closed with nice fine applique stitches, I went to the background and cut away all but a quarter-inch of the background. This exposes the papers. Then pull out your basting stitches (You always make sure your knots are on the right side, of course) and pop the papers. Doesn't get stiffer than regular fabric that way.

(2) I used somewhat smaller basting stitches that the pictures illustrate. You want to be sure your sides stay nice and smooth, your corners neatly tucked in, for when you do your whipstitches. This is especially important if you are doing more than one shape, as in the Ferris Wheel design. You can lose track of those corners awfully easily when you are putting hexagons, squares and triangles all together.

I always bought pre-cut paper pieces from
Posted: 8:50 pm on September 13th
bj29 writes: If you use freezer paper for the templates they can be ironed onto the fabric.
Posted: 7:41 pm on September 13th
lrranch writes: I am paper piecing a grandmother's flower garden quilt. I want to leave the edge natural. How do I quilt and bind the edges?
Posted: 11:09 am on September 11th
PipStitch writes: Thanks for a great tutorial! I really want to try this now.
Posted: 7:10 pm on September 6th
LindaPermann writes: I love how this turned out- it's on my "to try" list now!
Posted: 12:49 pm on September 5th
Sister_Diane writes: What a great tutorial! And I love this project. Thank you!
Posted: 12:35 pm on September 5th
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