Tutorial Number 4

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English Paper-piecing

 The Basics

Sewing the pieces together is part 4 of the 4-part process of making an English paper-pieced block.

Finally getting to the creative process – the reason for all the preparations...

Sewing the pieces together.

You will need:

  • the tacked fabric pieces.

  • thread – the choice of thread can add to your patchwork – usually machine-pieced patchwork is sewn using neutral thread: cream for light fabrics, black for dark fabrics and you can of course use neutral threads for paper-piecing but as you will see the stitches a colour matching or contrasting thread can make a feature of the threads if you would like to.

  • needle – whichever size between/quilting needle or regular sewing needle you feel comfortable with. I used to use a size 10 between but now find them too big and now pretty much always use a size 12 between/quilting needle (the smallest size) a draw back of a fine needle is a fine eye can shred thread so it is best to only cut lengths of thread that are arm-length.

  • Thimble and possibly a thumb protector – as you can end up with holes in the pads of your fingers from the eye end of the needle.

  • and depending on the size of the pieces and blocks, some pins.

The sewing technique used for English paper-piecing is whip-stitch – traditionally you stitch from the left-hand side of the piece and take the tiniest stitch through the edge of the tacked piece being careful not to stitch through the paper (although this is not vital - if you want to reuse the papers this is more important as removing papers which have been sewn through removes the papers straight edge). I use whip-stitch but stitch from the right-hand side (as I'm right-handed) and yet again this a habit and personal preference.

Take two pieces - I recommend pieces of the same size and shape ie 2 half square triangles from the Basic Star Block.

With the right sides together (the completely fabric covered sides) match the corners - you may find that the pieces are a few millimetres different in size, don't worry you can ease them.  I usually start with the side that the tacking was started on.

And starting from whichever side of the piece you prefer (traditional whip-stitch or my opposite method) start with the first stitch as close to the edge of the pieces as possible underneath the fold if possible and continue on with the small, close together stitches trying to make sure that the tail of the thread is under the first few stitches to secure the end of the seam - when you come to other side of the pieces - making sure to stitch all the way to the fold.  I finish the seam by backstitching over the last few stitches twice and then cutting the thread off close to the stitches.

The beauty of whip-stitch is that it is very strong and even when stitches are cut they need to be forcibly removed (unpicked) for the seam to unravel.

With the Basic Star Block as an example of constructing a block - I would usually stitch it together as follows:

Starting with the first row; stitch together the half square triangles to make squares and then construct that row - continuing the other three rows in the same way and then stitching them together to form the block - either after each row is finished or when all rows are finished.  I find stitching together the rows as you finish them is best as you are less likely to misplace pieces or get the rows confused. 

When stitching the rows together it is important to make sure that all the pieces are aligned otherwise the finished block will be misshapen - making sure that the pieces are aligned is easy enough to do: match the seams together.  If the pieces or blocks are very large and not able to be held in place with your fingers use the pins.  Pins can come in handy when matching seams - pin close to the seams to keep them aligned whilst stitching.

When stitching the rows together use the same technique as stitching the individual pieces together - if you run out of thread or the thread breaks before the seam is finished cut a tail and start a new thread making sure to stitch over the tail ends.

For larger blocks you could divide the construction into smaller blocks rather than solely rows - to make it more manageable - but yet again it is all personal preference.

From experience I would suggest making some one off blocks or small projects before making a large-scale quilt as it allows you to practice all the techniques and refine them.  Especially matching seams and making blocks which are square. Even though minor inaccuracy adds to the appeal of a handmade quilt if you are new to hand-piecing making smaller projects first will establish whether you want to tackle bigger projects as English paper-piecing can take a lot of time and energy.

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