Wednesday, August 2, 2017

English Paper Piecing Experiment: 3 Ways to Finish Project Edges

A couple of weeks ago, I showed off three 12" tops I'd made, as part of my new obsession with English Paper Piecing (EPP). The centers are Alex Anderson's festive pomegranate fabric.
That blog post included an EPP tutorial. I was deciding whether to combine them into one tablerunner, or finish them separately. Since then, I chose the latter. Here's #1, finished: 
The second one is also hand-quilted with motifs inspired by the central fabric: 
And below is the third, which my DD pointed out has a Thanksgiving feel. It's machine-quilted. Note: the hexagons aren't as symmetrical as in the first two. 
Here's why: the backs are different.
I used three different finishing techniques, as a semi-scientific way to research EPP finishing, and, if possible, reduce handwork.

English Paper Piecing is easier than regular piecing in many ways. Seam allowances needn't be perfect, and Y-seams are a breeze. Hexagons become child's play.

But EPP can involve a lot of handwork, which is tough on grownup hands, wrists, and shoulders. Plus, finishing the edges is a challenge.  Regular patchwork has only three layers at the edges: top, batting, and bottom. Stitch on a binding that takes up 1/4" of the edges, and you're done.

But with EPP, the top edges are already turned inside. And somehow, the backing fabric also has to be turned under. That makes 4 layers of fabric at the edges, plus batting. A regular binding is not practical. But there's no un-fussy-way to hide the batting inside and turn the back edges inward.

So I did some experimenting.

MAT 1: Classic Same-Shape Lining 
Usually, EPPers suggest you make a backing that has the same number of paper-pieced shapes on the edges as the top has around its edges. For my first mat, I gave it a shot, just for the purposes of comparison. First, I traced the finished top (with templates still inside) on batting.
Used the batting to cut out a larger piece of backing fabric.
 Created a set of hexagons that match the top's edges. (Hand-stitched, alas!)
Put the batting down first; center the backing on top of it, and finally the back hexagon wreath on top of that. Pinned in position.
Remember, the batting is on bottom - the top hasn't joined it yet.  I stitched all the way around the inner edges of the hexagons with a machine straight stitch (You should use a matching thread).
 From the batting side, you can see the stitching.
 Lay the top on the batting.
Whoops, remove all the templates first. THEN pin in position, and carefully handstitch all the way around the outside tucking in and/or clipping off any batting the protrudes.
I used a straight hand-quilting stitch to join the edges, as you can see on the lower right corner. 
The quilting motifs were hand sewn with two strands of embroidery floss. Here's a closeup of the back: 
Not bad! I'm going to quilt the central area a bit more, to hopefully take out more of the fullness there. I'm giving this method a solid B. But it didn't achieve my goal of reducing hand-stitching.

MAT 2 - METHOD 2: One-Piece Backing
From the top, the edge stitching on this mat looks the same as #1. 
But it was easier and faster, because I made a one piece backing.  First, I had to make a one-piece template for the backing. 
I made mine out of old file folder, onto which I traced the top. My folder wasn't quite big enough, so I taped two pieces together - but I should have used a glue stick, so the tape wouldn't melt when ironing.

Pinned the template on the batting.
Traced and cut out the batting. Cut the batting back further, taking about a quarter of an inch off each edge.
Pinned the cardstock template on the backing fabric, and cut out the fabric 1/2"-1" larger all the way around.
Clipped into the concave corners, to within a few threads of the template.  Tip: If you drip a bit of fray-checking substance there, it will strengthen the corner.
 Pressed fabric edges inwards over the template.
Removed the cardstock and replaced it with the batting.
Placed the backing, good side down, with the batting inside of it. Placed the top on that, wrong sides together.
Straight stitched all the way around (a whipstitch would work, too.)
Closeup of my straight stitch along the right and bottom edge of this hexagon. 
I'm happy with the way it turned out. It was easy and required much less handsewing than method 1 (or as you'll see, method 3.)
Again, I may do some more quilting in the middle to reduce the puffiness. I'd give this method an "A", except that some of the concave corners look better than others. This has to do with how far I dared to clip (the more you clip, the smoother - but the more danger of holes on the back.) So I'll give this method an A-. 

MAT 3 - METHOD 3: Machine Stitched Multiple-Piece Backing. 
This is a variation of Method 1, and also recommended by many EPPers - create a backing edging, with the same paper-pieced shapes as the front, and then stitch it to the front, wrong sides out. Finally, turn the backing to the back. I took unfortunate liberties with this approach.

Like Mat 1, this approach required 12 handsewn backing hexagons, one to match each of the border hexagons on front. First, let us admire how neat and symmetrical the front hexagons were to begin with.
Here's how they look before the templates were removed. 
 Here's the backing set:
 It's all so perfect, right? But not for long. I used the file template I'd made for mat #2 to trace and cut out batting, then cut back all the edges  1/4" or more within the tracing lines.
I discovered you can do the cutting and trimming more easily with a rotary cutter.
  I also used the cardstock template to trace and cut out the backing fabric.
Again, I trimmed the fabric back by 1/2" or so, all the way around. This doesn't have to be neat or precise.
 Remove the cardstock templates, and  pin the backing hexagon set to the front edges, good sides together.
This is where I went off the beaten path. The experts say to whipstitch the backing hexagons to the edges of the top. But my shoulder was aching - so I thought, what the heck, what if I machine stitch all the way around? I sewed about an eighth of an inch in from the edges. 
 ...And began turning.....
 It did not go well.
The back was a hot mess too, with some scary creases in the concave corners, which I obviously had not clipped...
 Nevertheless, I persisted, smushing the batting and backing inside.
 Massaged it mightily to see if I could work out those creases....
Eventually, it became acceptable, though I did think seriously about ripping out all the machine stitches and doing the edges all over again with the hand whipstitch. Instead, I hand-stitched the inside of the hexagons to the backing fabric, with a running stitch that only went through the batting layer, not all the way to the front.
 The front remained non-magnificent. Some of those hexagons were severely distorted. (Like the one at the 7 and 8 o'clock positions.)
Next, I machine quilted the outer hexagons (with Invisifil thread). That flattened everything out, and it looked better, if you don't look too close. (The 2 o'clock and 10 o'clock hexagons are weird, too.)
 The back looked better quilted.
I am giving this technique a B-minus. I still think I blew it by using my machine instead of handstitching the backing ring of pieces to the front. That's what I will try whenever my next EPP piece comes along.

Have you tried any of these techniques? What EPP finishing methods work for you? Any machine methods you recommend?


  1. My favorite EPP method is watch Cathy do it! :-) :-) :-)
    As usual I love seeing your steps and variations. Looks like you learned a lot with this little series. I'm sure the lucky recipients will love them.

  2. Thanks for the post, Cathy. I have a few EPP tabletopper tops pieced and waiting for finishing. You've inspired me to work on finally getting them done.

  3. have you tried using the machine stitching on a very tiny zigzag rather that a straight stitch with seam allowance? when opened out it approximates hand stitching quite closely and you really can't tell the difference. I'm going to try the #3 method using this.

    1. I have not tried that, please let me know how it goes!!!


Thank you for commenting!