The Changing Shapes of EPP

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Acrylic templates, pre-cut papers, glue basting, and fussy cutting are all staples of the modern English Paper Piecer's sewing compendium. It's fair to say we take all of these modern tools and notions for granted, yet as we discovered in part one of this series (The History of English Paper Piecing) quilters have been using this technique for many centuries and using far more rudimentary materials and simplistic techniques. We really are so lucky to have all of these tools at our disposal; it's created a fresh wave of creativity and boundary pushing, often far away from the ubiquitous hexagon that we typically associate with EPP.  


It's not only the shapes that have evolved, but also the fabrics and fabric play, the prints, the colours, and designs. With EPP there really are no limits, and with computer aided design, home laser cutters and a pinch of imagination, the most jaw-dropping EPP quilts have been created. I'm going to take a deep dive into modern EPP to see what's on trend right now, who's influencing the trends and how modern tools can help us. I'm also questioning how EPP today is different, if at all from EPP of the past. Join me, won't you?  


I've included a list of useful links to all the quilters, projects, and fabrics referenced throughout so you can take your own research further.


La Passacaglia by Willyne Hammerstein


Perhaps one of the most intricate and impressive trends is the La Passacaglia quilt, from the book Millefiori Quilts by Willyne Hammerstein of the Netherlands.  Willyne's complex and detailed rosette quilt has inspired quilters across the globe to make their own versions, allowing extensive fabric, and colour play. Fussy cutting and the creation of 'rosettes' is the key to this ambitious design, and by breaking it down into manageable chunks, quilters are able to work on one rosette at a time. A quick look on Instagram reveals that the hashtag #lapassacaglia has been used over 14.6K times, and I never cease to be amazed by the incredible fussy cutting and fabric combinations. Do check out this hashtag and be endlessly inspired!


Pollinate Quilt by Kitty Wilkin


Another beautiful rosette-based design that's taken the modern quilting scene by storm is the Pollinate quilt designed by nature lover and quilter Kitty Wilkin (@nightquilter). I caught up with Kitty who says:


“I was inspired by the bees pollinating flowers to feed and beautify our planet. Pollinate represents all the good you can put out into the world, one stitch at a time.  Pollinate is known for its rosette-based design and signature bees, which while looking complex is pieced together simply in subsections, making it perfect for both beginners and experienced EPPers alike. The versatility of this pattern is like no other, with many varying aesthetics resulting from different fabric choices and placement. You can view a sampling by scrolling through the posts on Instagram.


Pollinate Quilt Rosette by Kitty Wilkin


So much fun can be had with bright colours and low volume prints. I love that the EPP bees are a wonderful nod to nature and their importance as part of our ecosystem.  Here you can see a version of it in full glory, stitched by quilter Denise Gould. (@dottiedoodle)


Polilnate Quilt Finished by Denise Gould @dottiedoodle

The Seedling Quilts by Jodi Godfrey



One of my favourite EPP project books of recent times is Seedling Quilts by Jodi Godfrey (@talesofcloth). This book includes eleven English Paper Pieced and appliquéd designs, inspired by medicinal herbs. Choosing which quilt to make first is a challenge because they are all so beautiful! Jodi first rose to success with her Ice Cream Soda Quilt, an EPP quilt based on a repeated rosette design, using bright, modern fabrics. There was a hugely popular online sew-along back in 2017; if you weren't stitching it yourself, you were sure to know someone who was! Combined with Jodi's kits, that also happen to use eco-friendly paper and packing, it was a recipe for global EPP success.




All of the above-mentioned quilts have accompanying papers and kits that can be purchased in order to make the quilt. That in itself makes intricate EPP quilts so much more accessible today, compared to hundreds of years ago when all the papers and templates had to be drawn and cut out by hand. We have acrylic templates to draw around; templates with holes cut out to aid fussy cutting motifs; pre-cut papers, sometimes they are even numbered to aid construction, and templates of all different shapes and sizes to choose from. Some quilters even have home laser cutters, allowing them to cut the shapes they need with speed, accuracy, and precision that the EPPers of the past could only dream of. We are lucky indeed!


Templates and papers, photo by Sarah Ashford


A popular site for purchasing a range of kits is the DIY Addict founded by Karen Tripp. As well as a large collection of quilt kits, patterns, and notions; it's also a fantastic resource for all things EPP and contains many 'how to' videos and tutorials. It really is worth checking out, whatever stage you are at on your EPP journey.  


 Fussy Cutting


Templates and fussy cutting often go hand in hand. Fussy cutting is a popular technique and it's a great way to showcase our favourite animal characters, florals, and other motifs that feature in so many of the fabrics available to us today. It's also wonderful to see secondary shapes and patterns emerge to add further layers of complexity and interest to a pattern. I chatted with Florence Knapp, author of Flossie Teacakes Guide to English Paper Piecing, to find out why she loves the technique so much.


“By focusing on a particular part of a print and fussy cutting it to repeat across tessellating shapes, we’re able to draw out myriad new and unexpected designs from printed fabrics. There’s a real delight in seeing what emerges each time we do this - potentially, without even changing blocks, just one print could be used to create an entire quilt’s worth of interest. I think for many, fussy-cutting has that same mesmerising and addictive quality of looking into a kaleidoscope.”


Florence Knapp fussy cut rosette


Creating these effects is made all the easier for us modern quilters due to the availability of templates, allowing the motifs to be accurately positioned and then cut out. You can even purchase panels, designed specifically for fussy cutting, such as the hexagons shown here, which are from a panel by Heidi Kenny.


Hexies from a panel by Heidi Kenny, Photo Sarah Ashford


Not only does it make the fussy-cutting process much easier, it also allows for greater accuracy, and ultimately a more precise quilt. As Florence suggests, this process can become addictive!  


Irregular Shapes


Not all EPP is about regular shapes and creating rosettes though. Many of you will have heard of Violet Craft, who designs the most fantastic animals using EPP.  Some of her most iconic designs are The Peacock, The Lion, The Rooster, and The Owl. All of these creatures are formed from irregular EPP shapes that are stitched together to make up the image. I confess that the Peacock is patiently waiting for me to stitch him! I am in awe of all of Violet's beautiful animal creations, and I really think it's inspired that Violet has used EPP as a technique to create these animal forms.


Fabric and The Peacock by Violet Craft, photo by Sarah Ashford


Glue Basting


Traditionally, the process of English paper piecing is slow. First the fabric is hand basted to the papers and then tiny stitches are used to sew the shapes together. A popular option today is to glue baste the fabric to the papers instead. This is a much quicker method, and for this reason is preferred by many.  


As with anything, there are of course a few drawbacks; a large quilt will require lots of glue, which can get expensive. It can also be a little trickier to remove the papers at the end of a project - less is definitely more when it comes to applying the glue! But ultimately it's so much quicker, not only because you are gluing not stitching the fabric to the paper but it also negates the need to undo all the basting stitches at the end of the project in order to remove the papers, which can be time consuming. It's also much easier to glue baste tiny shapes, half inch hexagons for example, compared to hand basting. Both techniques have pros and cons, and ultimately, it's down to personal preference. I caught up with quilter and fabric designer Karen Lewis who told me why it's her preference to glue baste.


“I am a big fan of having a hand stitching project on the go. I am also a big fan of speeding up the process at the beginning by glue basting the EPP pieces so I can then sit back and enjoy the stitching."  


Karen Lewis EPP cushion


So, are we really that different to quilters of the past?


There are so many possibilities for English Paper Piecing today and it's never been easier. With so many kits, templates, fabrics, papers, glue, and video instruction available, the possibilities really are endless. Given that this craft is all done by hand, rather than racing to the finish, it's a great way to slow down and enjoy the journey. We may have all these fancy tools and gadgets at our disposal, which of course makes the process much easier, but ultimately us quilters just love the process of stitching with our hands, watching as the shapes grow. It is the slow joy of creating that drive us, and I sincerely believe that the love we have for EPP today, provides the same satisfaction that those early stitchers felt hundreds of years ago. Times and techniques may have changed, but the cathartic nature of the process remains the same. If previous generations of quilters had been given the opportunity to use pre-cut papers and acrylic templates instead, I am certain they would have taken it!


In the final part of this series, I'm going to be exploring further the joys and the benefits of hand stitching, and how this process can be a form of therapy as well as a craft. I'll be looking at how mindful stitching can help us through difficult times, as well as the happy, and celebratory ones. Check out the next issue of Modern Monthly to learn more.


Sarah designs quilts and writes patterns for a variety of quilting publications. She is the founder of the #GreatBritishQuilter Instagram Challenge and sells glitter project pouches in her Etsy shop Sarah is also part of the Quilter’s Planner team, which includes co-hosting their Instagram account. Follow her at @sarahashfordstudio and @thequiltersplanner to keep up with her quilting journey!