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.
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.