English paper piecing 

Trust that, given enough time on the internet, that I will discover a craft I haven’t mastered yet, but that will intrigue me enough with its complexity and weirdness that i will have to try it. The last few days, that craft is English Paper Piecing (EPP). This technique is found in quilting, where it is used to make appliques and decorative elements for quilts and clothes, particularly jackets.

Puzzling it out

The essence of the technique is pretty simple. Take “squares” of paper, or hexagons, or triangles or diamonds. Use pins or basting stitches to wrap small scraps of fabric around the paper; it’s a good idea to use both methods. Whip-stitch multiple scraps together without including the paper scraps. A pattern or a design emerges from the connected scraps of fabric. Remove the papers and the basting stitches; repeat until the quilt reaches its desired size.

I have seen this technique used to produce quite elaborate quilts and designs of various sorts — mostly online, but not always. Nearly every fancy quilt of elaborate geometric design has been made with a variant of this technique.

Maybe just a flower this time

The most immediate problem that has emerged from this work, of course, is that I have discovered that there is a new lower boundary on the minimum size of a piece of fabric that is too small to throw out. The hexagons here are 1 1/4″ across, more or less, so that means that considerably more fabric is useful to me than was true only a week ago. So, now it’s possible to save scraps of fabric only 2 1/2″square, and put them to use, rather than having to stick to fabric scraps only 4″ across or larger.  I am in trouble.

Working to a larger plan

In any case, the technique is quite powerful. The basting or pins hold the fabric in place around the paper; whip stitches are used to hold the pieces of fabric together, but don’t catch the paper. The basting can then be removed, and the paper removed, so the created structure keeps its shape but the Fabric doesn’t crinkle in the completed work. A backing fabric can be applied, or it can be attached to a larger quilt square.

I thought that method would be quite slow and fussy, but in fact it wasn’t. Reading a few simple articles was enough to get me started.  Printing a few pages covered with hexagons to cut out was simpler still.  Then I rummaged around in my scrap fabric bin for some pieces of fabric that might work for this purpose — that was easy, too.  I cut them down to size, slightly larger than each hexagon.

Back of the flower

As a tiling pattern, hexagons can’t be beat, but Islamic floor and wall mosaics could be made this way, or maps, or scenery, even portraits of you were dedicated enough (and had hexagon paper to do your planning, and an unlimited supply and variety of scrap cloth…).

For the moment though? It’s something to train my mind while I’m waiting for the sewing machine to get repaired.

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