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What is English Paper Piecing?

This month I wanted to learn all about English Paper Piecing. As I was researching the subject, I remembered the Sew Pro Convention I attended last year and a lovely lady I met there. She is a partner of Paper Pieces which is an online store that sells English Paper Piecing (EPP) templates along with patterns and other notions. They have a large selection that includes vintage and modern styles. I thought who better to explain than Jess! I was over the moon when she agreed to this interview. This is in fact my very first interview, so I will dive right into it. (My comments and questions are in purple and Jess’s comments are in grey.) The photo below is of Jess and her business partner, JoAnne Louis.

The owners of English Paper Piecing

Tell me about yourself.

So, my name is Jessica but really only my mother calls me that-when she’s mad. My friends call me Jess. I picked up my very first needle, thread and hexie in 2011 when I came to volunteer at Paducah Quilt Week to get credit hours for college.

What is English Paper Piecing?

It’s a type of hand sewing, typically for quilt tops. You take a paper shape (or paper pieces) and baste your fabric to it. Then you sew all your basted pieces together using a whip stitch or a ladder stitch! Using paper pieces, your quilt top will have perfect shapes. I think EPP is incredible because you can take it anywhere: the couch, road trips, airports and planes, sports games and doctor’s offices (I totally agree with that and have done most of these).  It’s hard to bring your machine to all those places!

Here is how you English Paper Piece

What is the history of EPP?

That’s tricky. It’s such an OLD form of quilting that there really is no history! They found a coverlet in English from 1718 that proves to English Paper Pieced. It’s pretty neat, though, because you can find old hexie quilts that have old bits of newspaper or handwritten letters in them.

Is Paper Piecing and English Paper Piecing the same?

So there’s FOUNDATION Paper Piecing and ENGLISH Paper Piecing. What’s the difference? Machine vs. Hand. I’ve honestly never Foundation Pieced, I only know that it’s done upside down and backwards.

Most popular EPP shape?

The 1″ Hexagon – it’s tried and true. It’s been the most popular shape as long as JoAnne (partner of Paper Pieces) can remember. They are my favorite because I can use up my scraps with them!

English Paper Piecing as a hexie quilt

What information should beginners know?

There are hundreds of videos online, and hundreds of “right ways” to EPP. Do what feels best. Listen to your fingers when picking a needle, not the lady in the quilt guild. Try different brands of threads for whipping, not just what the YouTube video says. Some like glue basting while others swear by thread basting – try them both. Some sew THROUGH our papers, others like “corner catching.” Do what works best for YOU. You’re going to be working on this project for awhile, so make sure you’re comfortable doing it.

How was your company founded?

I’m going to tie in the story of how Paper Pieces began with my own introduction to Paper Pieces; this is actually one of my favorite stories to tell. Roughly 35 years ago, two women who worked for Boeing Aircrafts had been laid off. Guess what they did to keep busy? They took a quilting class together!

Their first class was English Paper Piecing and they spent half the class cutting out their own Hexagons. They absolutely loved EPP, except the part where they had to be really careful to cut the paper hexies just right so they would fit together perfectly. That’s when the seed was planted and they started Paper Pieces! Soon after they had the company established an on its feet, they were asked to come back to Boeing.

At that point a woman named Tess took over the company and ran it for about 20 years out of Redmond, Washington until she decided to retire. She put a little announcement in her newsletter that she was ready to sell the company. That newsletter fell into Joanne Louis’s hands and in 2002, she and her husband Jeff, brought Paper Pieces to Northern Illinois. They added new shapes and products to the catalogs each year and as they grew, they started hiring the neighborhood teens to come and help with production on school breaks. My husband, Max, was one of them!

Fast forward to 2012 – Max and I graduated college and JoAnne hired us while we were looking for jobs in our industry… but we were getting along so well with Paper Pieces that the search for jobs didn’t last too long.

Fast forward to 2014 – We sold three houses in Northern Illinois and one house in Alabama and moved to Quilt City USA (Paducah, KY)! We’ve been here for three years and we love living, working and quilting in Paducah! It’s been a wild ride and I’m blessed to say that I love what I do; plus I get to bring my pup to work! If you’re ever in Paducah – please stop by and say hi!

Anything else you would like to share?

We love working with other designers; we can make custom papers and acrylics. If you call for help, you’ll be talking to a real-live quilter and not just a sales rep.

Thank you so much, Jess! I am so happy to have this opportunity to share the passion of what you do! I included a few of my favorite English Paper Pieced quilts with links to templates and plan on sharing more about EPP in my next two posts. They will feature EPP projects so you can get your feet wet. I know I am not ready to make a fully-pieced EPP quilt top, however I am ready to try it out. So let’s jump into the EPP world together!

Here are some beautiful quilts using
English Paper Piecing.

English Paper Piecing - Vintage Stars Quilt
Vintage Stars by Karen Styles
English Paper Piecing - Spinning Wheels
Spinning Wheels by Beck Gold Smith
EPP - Dodecagon Quilt
Dodecagon Quilt

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