Though I do not remember the first time I learned of English Paper Piecing as a method of sewing, I do remember what made me want to try the method for myself. I am a big fan of Jane Austen. While cruising objects owned by Jane Austen’s House I came across the coverlet constructed by Austen, her mother and her sister using the English Paper Piecing (EPP) method. In true geeky Janite fashion, I had to give this method of sewing a try (nevermind that I had never actually hand-sewn anything).
What is English Paper Piecing?
English Paper Piecing is a method of hand sewing. You wrap fabric around a paper template and hand-sew the pieces together to create intricate patterns used in traditional patchwork and quilting. These templates come in a variety of sizes and shapes such as hexagons, diamonds, rectangles and jewels. You can buy patterns or create them yourself. Using a paper template provides stability to both the fabric and the pattern while sewing the pieces together.
When I constructed my EPP coaster I certainly appreciated the extra stability. As someone inexperienced with hand sewing, the paper templates allowed me to focus on my stitches rather than divide my attention between making stitches and holding the fabric properly. Once you sew the individual pieces together you remove the templates. However, there are historical examples where the paper templates are left in the work. Over time the paper softens and provides extra warmth when kept stitched within a blanket.
We have several resources for trying EPP. You can take video classes on Creativebug (free with your library card) and, of course, check out books. Below are several books I recommend to get you started.
People who left paper templates in patterns helped historians date the use and popularity of this sewing method. Original paper templates were often made from recycled letters and newspapers, which included dates or commentary on historic events. The earliest known EPP creations date to the 1770s and continued in popularity in England through the 1800s. English Paper Piecing appeals to many because this method is a great way to use up left over fabric, it’s easy to take with you, and you get a chance to slow down while connecting with techniques of the past. Best of all you get to imagine yourself sewing with Jane. I also recommend the fun book and movie Austenland for a tale of Austen imagining going a bit too far.