What is English Paper Piecing - How it's done and it's history

English Paper Piecing is a method of quilting that involves using a paper shape, most commonly a hexagon, to add stability to the quilt. The quilt is hand stitched with pieces of fabric cut a ¼ inch bigger than the paper shape. The fabric is basted to the paper shapes before the shapes are sewn together. Once the quilt top is competed the papers are removed.
English Paper Piecing is a historical quilting technique that traces back to the 1770s. The earliest hexagon template that quilt researchers have found was made in England in 1770. Hexagons and English Paper Piecing became one of the most popular patterns and styles in England by during the early 1800’s.

Early English Paper Piecing Quilt

Godey’s Ladies Book published the first hexagon pattern in 1835; It had complete instructions for the paper-piecing construction technique. 
In the 1800’s paper was a luxury, so women reused what paper that was available, newspaper, old letters, catalogues etc. This has enabled quilt historians to accurately date some of the earliest English Paper Pieced quilts, as the paper was often left in the quilts.
In 2010 the Victoria and Albert Museum held an exhibition, Quilts 1700-2010. Many of the museum’s quilts were taken out of store for the first time in decades and following the publication of 'X-radiography of Textiles, Dress and Related Objects' in 2007, some of the quilts were analysed in this way. Articles have been produced telling the stories and detailing the construction of some iconic quilts from the collection.

English Paper Piecing technique
To this day English Paper Piecing is a very popular method of quilting. With the small pieces required, it is a great way to use up scraps of fabric therefore being a very sustainable method of quilting.

The method of English Paper piecing is still the same today as it was in the 1800’s but with new products to make the process a little simpler, quilters are saving time on some of the longer processes. For example, you can buy your paper templates ready made in all manner of shapes and sizes, and as for your fabric there are rulers now to make the cutting process so much quicker.
Why not show us your English Paper Piecing projects at the Patchwork & Quilting UK Facebook page
We are now offering video consultations - Find Out More