Wednesday, 21 May 2014

How to fussy-cut fabric for English paper piecing (EPP)


I thought I might write a tutorial for how I go about fussy-cutting when I'm working on a piece like the one above. It's not difficult at all, just time consuming and a bit fiddly.

Most often fussy-cutting is about cutting a piece of fabric so that a motif is centralised. In these instances, a standard metal English paper piecing template is fine and eyeballing where you should place it works.


However, these metal templates don't work so well for something like the piece I'm working on above, firstly, because my piece uses pentagons (which there aren't a great deal of templates for - hexagons are more common in EPP), and also because if you want to place two pieces side by side and have them line up perfectly (as I did for my horses' heads), a little more precision is needed. 


This is also the case for matching stripes (these aren't actually sewn together - just placed for demonstration).


So on these occasions, I create my own templates, using transparent template plastic, which as you'll see a bit later, are fantastic for enabling the fussiest of fussy cutting.

Here's how:


1. Begin with the paper template that you're going to use to wrap your fabric around (this piece won't have any seam allowance). Place a larger piece of transparent template plastic over it and very carefully trace the shape onto the plastic using a pen (not a pencil, as you'll see later that these lines may be rubbed over). Biro is fine, although it can take a few times to mark the plastic.


2. Now it's time to add on the seam allowance. Typically this is 1/4" for English paper piecing. Again mark these lines using pen, tackling one side at a time - it doesn't matter if your lines overshoot and cross at the ends, as these will be cut away.


3. Carefully cut the plastic template out. You now have a template exactly 1/4" bigger on all sides that the paper template.


4. Place the template onto the fabric. When you're positioning it, remember that whatever is in the seam allowances won't be seen. While I've positioned my horse's head nicely here, I wanted to be certain that its forelock, nose and legs are in exactly the same position every time I cut the horse, otherwise the continuation between the pieces and the kaleidoscope effect I was hoping for would be lost.


5. This is where template plastic is much better than a template with the centre cut away. Using a pencil, I mark on some of the key features, so that every time I set my template down on the fabric from now on, I can position it identically each time. Because it's pencil, it's easily erasable if I get this wrong and also means I can reuse the template once I've moved on from cutting out horses' heads (this is why I said that the seam allowance should be marked on in pen earlier, as you won't want to rub that out).


6. Carefully cut around the plastic template with a rotary cutter - you'll need to be careful as your cutter will slice through the plastic relatively easily. Fussy cutting creates a lot of fabric waste - to make the rest of the fabric more usable, try to minimise taking a long run-up with the rotary cutter and just cut exactly around the shape.


7. Wrap the paper with an even 1/4" seam allowance on all sides so that your extreme fussy cutting isn't rendered imprecise


I used a SewLine glue pen to temporarily baste my fabric to the paper.


While I'm guessing flowers and stripes may be the more common subject of fussy cutting, I feel compelled to share with you that at the time I was creating these, I genuinely felt there may be no greater thrill in life than fussy cutting horses' heads, so must implore you not to overlook the unexpected joy that's to be found in textile equestrian pursuits (even experienced by one who is rather scared of horses outside the sewing room).


The half-flower above isn't actually sewn together…just placed, but it's another example where I used the above technique to try and recreate pieces featuring the exact same part of the fabric print each time.

If you haven't done much fussy cutting before, to gain the most impact in the finished piece, look for fabric prints with a strong, defined shape or pattern to them and a frequent repeat. You don't need to pick out a recognisable motif - just focusing on the same part of design, once pieced together, can have great impact (I've done this at the very centre of the piece I'm working on at the top of this post, and again in other places). Designers who regularly feature fairly defined prints in their fabric collections are: Tula Pink, Amy Butler, Anna Maria Horner, Joel Dewberry and V&Co (many of my sponsors at the top of the right hand column stock these designers).

And in the interest of completeness, I feel compelled to re-share my post about my favourite EPP thread - I really can't imagine using anything else now.

Florence x

33 comments:

  1. I just love the horses heads… they are so beautiful and fun! Your pieces are so neat and precise to, so pleasing to look at.

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    1. Thank you, Izzy - I'm now trying to find ways to work more creatures into the rest of the cog wheels (although the pattern calls them rosettes, which sounds much more sophisticated, but they do make me think of cogs because of the way they interlink).

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  2. This is a great tutorial. Makes fussy cutting seem very doable!

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  3. So THAT's how you did it! I've been wondering as I am completely in love with this piece you are working on. I gave this thread a shot on your rec, and while it took some getting used to as it's so thing, it is super string and near invisible once sewn. I now don't know what else I would use either!

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    1. Arggghhh---so 'thin' and super 'strong.'

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    2. I'm so pleased you liked it, Bethany - it's always horrible to feel you've recommended something if people don't get on with it, but I'm fairly evangelical about this thread - I do just love it.

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  4. Thank you for such a clear explanation!

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  5. Thanks for the clever tutorial! Your epp looks amazing!

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  6. Thank you for a very informative post. You make fussy cutting seem much eaiser than I had imagined it would be.

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    1. It is indeed really easy, as long as you're the sort of person that likes 'fiddly'…if you're not I can imagine it would feel torturous!

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  7. Oh these colours, shapes and combinations are mesmerising! I have never quilted but I'm agog watching you work on these designs.

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  8. The timing of this is serendipitous! I am starting an EPP project. (just simple stars, nothing elaborate like your projects!) I won't be fussy cutting all of my stars, but I thought some fussy cutting would be fun and I was wondering just exactly HOW I should go about doing that. Now I don't have to wonder any more :-) thank-you so much!! (plus - you usually manages to make me chuckle at some point in your posts, so bonus points for you for that :-)

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    1. I'm so pleased - it's odd actually, as even just using hexagons, if you fussy-cut them it can make it look like a much more complicated design than it really is. I'd love to see once you've started. x

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  9. The piece you are working looks stunning. I'm not sure I have the patience to make a large piece using EPP - yes, I am sure, I don't - but I do have some hexagons on the go which may eventually turn into something. Thank you for this clear tutorial.

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  10. Now, *this* is what I was trying to articulate, not very well, the other day when we were all talking about blogging vs. Instagram and all that.

    " I feel compelled to share with you that at the time I was creating these, I genuinely felt there may be no greater thrill in life than fussy cutting horses' heads, so must implore you not to overlook the unexpected joy that's to be found in textile equestrian pursuits

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    1. When the writing -- as yours so often, often is -- is as fun and witty and whimsical as that, taking a moment to enjoy and really examine the small beauties in life -- well how can Instagram begin to compare??? (Yes I do enjoy IG, but a good writer's blog is immeasurably richer IMHO!)

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    2. And that's not even to MENTION all the photography and the work that went into creating your exquisite textile pieces to begin with!!

      Sorry rather a wordy comment split into three because of apparent iPad or user error this morning!!!

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    3. Thank you so much for persisting through commenting on an iPad - I know that frustration when I try and use my iPhone to leave comments. I really appreciate your lovely comment, Kim, thank you. x

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  11. A great way to fussy cut, beautifully explained. The site buy my epp papers from (in Australia) included a thin clear template including a half seam allowance to help with fussy cutting.
    Gutermann now makes an Extra Fine polyester which I find just right for my epp sewing. I recently wrote a couple of blog posts regarding my personal experience with Bottom Line and Gutermann Extra Fine for those interested.

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    1. Thank you - I think I'm too firmly addicted to Bottom Line now to change, but I'll read your post!

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  12. Your paper piecing is truly fabulous. Thank you for a great tutorial. X

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  13. Excellent tutorial, thanks Florence. The piece you are working on in this post looks amazing!
    Miss Leela xo

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  14. Great post, Florence! I have also just flicked through my new copy of LP&Q (or is it LQ&P?) and saw your lovely EPP quilt. Would you mind telling me which fabrics you used for that particular piece, and if there are any others in that range? That quilt design and colours would be perfect for my spare room, which is kitted out in white, yellow and grey and I'm struggling to find nice prints that co-ordinate for a quilt!

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    1. The pieces in the quilt are all by Dear Stella - I think it lists the exact ones I've used at the top of the article, but from memory they're mostly from the Paloma collection, the Sunburst Stripes collection and then a few random ones from various others - but again, I'm sure it does say, but I'll re-check it later.

      I've found it quite hard to source Dear Stella fabrics in this country - many of those prints were sent to me directly by Dear Stella (who are based in the US0, but there were a few that I'd bought from an Etsy seller called Fanciful Fabrics - Karen, who runs it, offers amazing customer service and so I'd definitely recommend them if you decide to shop online for it. I hope that helps. x

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  15. Wowza! Great tutorial! I think I'm going to go fussy cut my entire stash now :D

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  16. Marking the template is such a great idea! I do like the gentleness of hand stitching hexies together, but don't do it often... yours are beautiful

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  17. I wondered how you were doing this so perfectly! Thank you for sharing.

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  18. You explain things so beautifully Florence and your photos and projects are gorgeous! I am so inspired! Thank you for sharing your fussy cutting tricks and tips!

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  19. Thanks for helping me see the light, Florence!

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x

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