I am someone that is easily overwhelmed when I have too many choices! I’ve always wanted to “dive into” English Paper Piecing (EPP) but never quite knew where to start! I always felt like there were so many things to learn or decide. Amy Ball of Coffee Rings Studio is here today to answer one of the most commonly asked questions regarding English Paper Piecing, should you glue or thread baste your pieces?
Amy is an experienced quilter, and I’m thrilled that she is sharing some of her advice and knowledge with all of us today!
Table of Contents
What is English Paper Piecing (EPP)?
English paper piecing (EPP) is a very old quilting method that is still used today to create traditionally styled sewing projects as well as modern makes. The technique involves wrapping fabric around shaped pieces of paper or card and then hand stitching the fabric together.
What is Basting?
One of the early stages of an EPP project, after you’ve chosen your design and fabrics, is to secure (or baste) the fabric around the shaped card pieces. Once this is done, you are ready to start sewing your project. But which is the best basting method to choose… traditional thread or more modern glue?
How to glue baste:
1. Secure your paper piece to the wrong side of your fabric piece with a dab of glue.
2. Fold over the seam allowance on one edge and hold it in place with glue.
3. Repeat on the other edges, basting to move around the shape rather than doing opposite sides first.
Tips for glue basting:
Make sure you use just enough glue to hold the seam allowances in place; too much glue will make it harder to remove the papers later. I like to use fabric glue sticks because the end is slimmer, and they are usually colored, making it easier to see where you have glued; however, they can get expensive as you will use quite a few in one project.
You can also use regular glue sticks (like the ones for schools and craft projects); they can be a little harder to unstick at the end of the project but do work out much cheaper.
Pros of Glue Basting
Firstly I find glue basting much faster than thread basting, and this can be a huge plus point when working on a large project or one with an approaching deadline.
As the seam allowance is held to (rather than held around) the papers, I find the corners and edges of a glue-basted paper piece are crisper and more accurate; this can be a real plus point for exact fussy cutting.
Also, you only need one tool…the glue stick itself.
Cons of Glue Basting
Firstly you need to have a glue stick in your sewing supplies, and not everyone will have this tool to hand. I find I need a flat surface to glue baste (although that might just be me!), which does limit where I am able to do it.
Finally, glue basted paper pieces take longer to remove once the project is finished; pressing with an iron helps to melt the glue a little making the papers easier to get out, but the heat from the iron cools quite quickly, so you need to keep pressing to ease the removal of the papers.
How to thread baste:
1. Secure your paper piece to the wrong side of your fabric piece with a pin or dab of glue.
2. Fold the first two fabric edges and sew a couple of little stitches across the corner fold to hold it in place.
3. Move around the shape and fold the next edge into place adding a stitch across that corner fold too.
4. Repeat until you’ve worked all the way around your EPP shape.
Pros of Thread Basting
Although you use more than one tool to thread baste, the tools you need (needle, thread, and scissors) are ones that I think anyone who sews, even if they are very new to sewing, will have to hand.
Unlike glue basting, you don’t need a flat surface for thread basting, which means you can do it on the sofa…a huge plus point in my books! And thread-basted papers can be popped out quickly and easily.
Cons of Thread Basting
I find thread basting a much slower process compared to gluing. With time, as with any technique, you will get faster, but I think it will always take longer. As the seam allowance is only held around the paper (rather than stuck to it), the fabric doesn’t stay in place as precisely on the corners and edges. To combat this, I like to press once the paper pieces have been thread-basted; although this adds to prep time, I think it helps with the accuracy.
And although I have put this as a “con” having the fabric not held as tightly to the paper pieces can be a plus point once you are sewing.
The End Results
So can you tell the difference between the glue and thread-basted projects once they have been finished? With practice I think it becomes harder to tell the difference, but this is what I have found over many projects; with a glue basted project, it can be harder to keep the stitches completely invisible.
A way around this is to using less glue and making sure to only glue a small amount along the fabric edges, meaning the folded seam allowance isn’t as tight to the paper piece, which in turn helps to keep the stitches invisible, however with a thread basted project it is much easier to keep the stitches invisible.
Which basting method should you choose?
As a fan of pattern matching across EPP pieces, I would say glue basting is a better choice for this technique as it is much quicker to adjust and shift a paper piece that has been glue basted to get the alignment of fabric motifs more accurate.
However, the final decision will mostly come down to personal preference and which pros and cons are more important to you for each project. I regularly use both techniques and do not think one is “better” than the other.
About the Designer
Amy Ball is a modern quilt designer and founder of Coffee Rings Studio. Amy regularly contributes projects to magazines and creates online courses and workshops for beginner quilters. Subscribe to Amy’s newsletter to receive your free ‘Guide to (near) Perfect Patchwork’ and follow her on Instagram at @coffeeringsstudio. Also, check out Amy’s digital and paper patterns in her Etsy shop.