Very Easy English Paper Piecing: A Tutorial from Road Home Quilting

Why try English Paper Piecing?
How would you like to make your next quilt top without worrying about accurate cutting, without constant pressing, and entirely forgetting about grain lines? Not possible? Actually, the piecing method this effortless was popularized in the Victorian Era, although much older examples exist.
English Paper Piecing is the technique of joining fabric wrapped paper templates to create mosaic and tessellation quilts.
  • Great for using up scraps
  • Use irregular fabric weights
  • Portable piecework
  • Change project size without redrafting patterns
  • No pins!
Here is everything you need to know to get started, and tips to keep your project Very Easy:

Size Matters
Don't panic, but we are going to start by reviewing a geometry term:
equilateral = having all sides equal
There are two ways to measure English Paper Pieces. Because they are equilateral, the measure of one side is usually considered "the size." So, a 1" hexagon, has 6 sides that are each 1" long. (See, we promised this would be Very Easy.) Uncommon shapes, such as Apple Core and Trapezoid, are measured by their internal vertical height. Visualize this measurement as a tent pole inside your paper piece that holds up its roof.
Beware: some patterns use the internal height measurement for all pieces. Example: you might find a 1" hexagon referred to as a 2" hexagon, because connecting opposite points are 2" apart.
Of course, two can play at this game. You can easily re-size your pattern just by changing the size of the paper templates. No need to redraft your pattern to enlarge or reduce. For example, a 1" hexagon twin quilt, created in 1/2" pieces, is now a crib quilt. The same project created in 1/4" hexagons, is now a doll quilt.

Getting Dressed
Now you are ready to dress your pieces. Instead of pins for holding paper shapes in place, use a dab of washable glue stick in the center of your paper piece to temporarily fasten them to the wrong side of your fabric scrap. You only need a scrap large enough to provide a 1/4" seam allowance around each side of your foundation piece.
Next, wrap the seam allowance around the foundation template and secure each corner with a basting stitch or two. In this photo, basting is almost complete. Beware: Don't make your basting so tight that your paper-piece bends.

Use any old thread for basting, provided the stitches don't show through your fabric. For Very Easy English Paper Piecing, there is no need to remove basting stitches. When your project is complete, extra stitches become part of the "quilt sandwich."

Which way is up?
Because English Paper Pieces fit together like puzzles, it is erroneously assumed that there is no top or bottom to your piece. But in a true mosaic pattern, the little distinction of top or bottom could be important. So before you recklessly run amok with the fun of joining your newly dressed pieces, pay attention to your pattern. Look at the two mosaic patterns in this illustration:
Are your design senses tingling? How can the same number of equilateral shapes have different proportions? The secret is in recognizing which way is up: The first pattern uses the flat side of the hexagon as the piece top, the second uses a corner point for the top.

Assembly Planning
Next, decide how you will assemble your pieces when following your pattern. There are two assembly methods for Very Easy English Paper Piecing:
  • Join pieces in rows by linking a flat side, then combine rows together by nesting points.
  • Or, work in a circle, joining pieces around a centerpiece.
Which method was used to create this project?
You are right, you can't tell any difference in the above picture. Just recognize that if your pattern calls for blocks or applique sets, you'll use centerpiece assembly. For tessellation or charm designs, row assembly is quicker.
Assembly Action
Begin joining two pieces together at any matched side with a whip stitch: Right sides together and paper sides out. 7 stitches per 1" side is sufficient. Here, a heavy thread is easier to work with. You are not going to stitch through the papers. Your needle runs in the fold of the fabric, along the paper's edge.

When adding a neighbor piece in centerpiece assembly, or when joining rows together, you will roll pieces to make corners align. Try not to crease the paper. This can effect your quilt top alignment. Plus, you can't reuse bent pieces. [If you do crease a paper-piece, restore alignment by ironing the bent area, then glue another paper piece over the back of the bent one for extra stability.]

Do stitch all corners together!
Hold your project up to a light. If you see gaps in your finished piece, you have not joined all corners. In a hexagon pattern, every corner meets 2 other corners. Join all corners!

What happens to all those papers?
Remove a paper template only when the piece has been completely attached on all sides and corners to other pieces. Here the surrounded centerpiece has been removed. Pick any side, and pull the paper out with a gentle tug. Tweezers or a paper clip are handy for grabbing a stubborn paper edge from under the seam allowance. If very stubborn, swipe tweezers between fabric and paper to break glue seal.

Pressing Preferences
Some quilters like to leave all the papers in place until after the completed quilt top has been pressed. Others remove pieces and reuse them throughout the project. On-the-go quilters like removing the bulk created by papers ASAP. Remember, with Very Easy English Paper Piecing, there is no need to press in progress, just stitch and go! Please press before quilting.
You have started English Paper Piecing, the Very Easy way. You will be surprised how quickly your project comes together!


  1. Thank you Alex for your tutorial. I'm a visual learner and your pictures along the way were great! I'm keeping this close at hand. Haha Thanks!!

  2. Thank you, I didn't realize it was a hand-sewn project and I'm looking for something to do in front of the TV -- you've hit the spot and I appreciate you sharing!

  3. Hi:
    I just found you blog on google and thought it was really awesome. Just wondering can you use felted wool fabric with EPP? I want to try but don't want to waste it since its so expensive, and hoped someone else may have tried already.



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