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Timeless Stitches: Paper Piecing Techniques, 20 May 2022

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Timeless Stitches
Published in The Baldwin City Community  News
May 20, 2022

--Liz Granberg-Jerome

Let’s jump back in and clear up a pair of acronyms that can be confusing. When quilters refer to “paper piecing” they may be referring to one of two very different techniques! Although their names sound similar, English Paper Piecing and Foundation Paper Piecing are very distinct from each other.


For a quilter who does more hand sewing, they may be referring to English Paper Piecing. This type of piecing is done with small pieces of fabric basted onto cardboard or plastic templates that are then sewn together with tiny stitches by hand. The most common shape used in traditional EPP quilts is the hexagon. Once a block or larger section is stitched together, the templates can be removed from the inner pieces and reused as more rounds or rows are added. This little EPP flower is partially sewn together with tiny hand stitches. The additional two hexagons will be added using Y-seams, setting the points into the angle of the two hexagons already sewn together.


A common design made with EPP is a Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt where flowers like this are surrounded with hexagons made of a neutral background color. There are a variety of layouts that give the design interest. Vintage Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilts were often made of old clothes that were beyond handing down or patching. Thus, they were considered memory quilts for the families who received them and knew the origin of many of the fabrics used.


More modern takes on English Paper Piecing may include the Lucy Boston Patchwork Cross blocks that use honeycomb and square templates or the more intricate designs of the Millefiori hand pieced quilts that also include shapes such as octagons, diamonds, honeycomb, squares, jewels, and more to create their intricate layouts. These are all hand pieced and take a lot of patience to complete. A quick Google search will provide you with many examples of these English Paper Pieced quilts.




The second type of paper piecing is Foundation Paper Piecing. This technique involves machine sewing fabric onto a paper foundation that is marked with a design that often has shapes that are awkward to piece in the more traditional fashion. These designs can be as simple as a pineapple block or as complicated as this Violet Craft elephant design with hundreds of pieces made by Liz’s friend Cheryl Lowrance. On large projects like this, small pieces are sewn onto foundation sections. As the sections come together, they are joined into larger sections, and ultimately into the finished design.




Liz’s pineapple star was first machine pieced onto eight separate diamond foundations. Once the diamonds were completed, then they were sewn together into the star and the setting triangles and corner squares were added with Y-seams. Color placement on a pineapple star like this can change its look completely and leaves lots of room for individual creativity to play.


The next time a quilter mentions making a “paper piecing” project, now you’ll know to ask them which type—English or Foundation.

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Quilters' Paradise Quilt Shop, owned and run by Sharon Vesecky, opened its doors in its current location on January 3, 1989.