Your EPP Box of Tricks
Here is a list of equipment generally used by English Paper Piecers as well as useful tools and equipment recommended by users.
Your Basic EPP Starter Toolbox will probably consist of the following:
- Basting thread, piecing thread, quilting thread, a needle threader and seam ripper.
- Needles, pins and a pin cushion.
- Quilting rulers of various sizes, quilting stencils, a cutting mat and rotary cutter
- Fabric, fabric clips, fabric pens and several pairs of scissors.
- Paper, card or plastic templates, freezer paper, a glue stick or possibly starch.
- Iron and ironing board (or mini iron and portable board)
- Low tack painter’s masking tape, lint roller
- A portable container to contain your tools and work in progress.
Tools that I have found invaluable for my own EPP projects:
- Clover clips for holding edges of fabric and block together. Unlike pins they don’t distort fabric.
- Prym Aqua Trickmarker for marking my quilt top for embroidery or hand quilting.
- A sewing gauge for making sure my borders and binding is the same width all the way around the quilt
- A Clover mini iron for getting to tiny places where my regular iron would burn my fingers! I also have a portable pressing pad on my quilting table for small pieces.
- Sewline glue sticks and packs of refills
- Magnetic pin holder – but keep it away from electronic machines! I use this for the projects I am working on but I have two other pin cushions, one for embroidery needles and the other for ordinary sewing needles, so I don’t mix them up by mistake.
- I often make paper templates but there is nothing like bought paper pieces for speed and accuracy.
- Fiskars scissors. These are great quality scissors. A pair each for embroidery and paper, as well as dressmaking shears for cutting fabric and each one used only for that purpose so that they don’t blunt.
- 4 inch, 6 inch, and 8 inch and 12 inch rulers for squaring up blocks and mini quilts.
- Gutterman silk thread for hand applique.
- Tiny white headed appliqué pins. I use them all the time for piecing as well as appliqué because they are great in small spaces. They slide in and out of fabric effortlessly and I don’t catch my fingers on them so easily.
- Pearl/Perle regular and variegated threads for decorative utility quilting.
- A piece of muslin as a pressing cloth because you can see through it. (muslin in the UK is not the same as muslin in the US. US muslin is Calico in the UK. Our muslin is more like American feedsack fabric)
Do you have any favourite tools? Let me know what you find indispensable, and why, and I will add them to this page.
Needles for EPP
Needles seem to be about personal preference and when you are just starting out there is nothing wrong with using a regular hand sewing needle (Sharps needles). My favourite is a Milliners needle, a long needle with a round eye because I find them easier to thread (I hate using needle threaders). They are good for hand sewing and basting as they don’t damage the fabric. They can also be used for embroidery and needle turn appliqué.
A needle should be the right size for it to pass through fabric with minimum abrasion but not so large that the needle leaves a noticeable hole around the thread.The higher the number the smaller the needle. They come in sizes 1-12. (Incidentally, if your needle or pin does leave a hole, scratch at the fabric with your fingernail and the hole will disappear)
Between Needles are used for fine quilting your finished EPP project – very short, fine needles with a round eye. Their diameter is the same as a sharps needle but they are shorter in length to allow quick and even stitching. Sizes range from 5-12 but size 8 is best to start with if you are a beginner. It is possible to get a Big Eye quilting needle in a size 10 and these are easier to thread. Whereas sharps are good for piecing, they are not designed for hand quilting because the needle glides through the fabric or quilt layers too easily, making it hard to determine how much of the needle is through the fabric. On the other hand the smallness of the between sometimes makes it hard to pull through all those layers, so a rubber needle pad or ‘needle grabber’ is a good buy.
NB. Folklore suggests that these needles are called betweens because their advantages fell between sharps and darning needle types.
Utility or Big Stitch Quilting needles have a bigger eye to accommodate the thicker decorative thread that you will use, such as Pearl 8 thread. Some needle suggestions for Big Stitch quilting (or for tying) include Betweens size 3 and 5, Chenilles sizes 22 and 24, Sharps sizes 3 and 5 and Sashiko needles.
Needles I’ve Heard Good Things About:
Tulip Heroshima Milliners Needles (straw). Size 10. Also available with a Big Eye. These fine quality polished needles, these are strong and durable with enough flexibility to make them resistant to bending or breaking are great for piecing as they glide through fabric with ease.
John James Needles -a traditional company that have been making great quality needles for generations. Check out their website for lots of information about needles.
The John James ‘Pebble’. These sets of needles, that come in different colour cases, are great for beginners. Each set is colour coded, covering Embroidery, Tapestry, Knitters, Darners and Household Needles.
Clover – Short, fine needles such as Clover’s No 9 Gold Eye Quilting needle. Sizes 8 or 9 are the most popular but a size 10 gives a finer result. Also recommended are Clover black gold needles and Clover gold eye Miliners needles which are larger.
Sue Daley – recommends size 11 Milliners needles for EPP and size 15 for people who suffer from arthritis, carpel tunnel syndrome or who have very long fingernails. Her needles come in sizes 9 to 15, so you can start with a thicker one and work your way up to a finer one.
I have heard good things about Sajou hand sewing needles. Sajou is a French company that produces sets of sharp sewing needles and round tipped embroidery needles.
It’s really about personal preference. Try some different ones and see what works best for you.
Thread for EPP Piecing:
Most whipstitching done in EPP can be very slightly visible so choose a colour to blend in with your fabric background. Neutral colour threads like light and dark cream and/or light and dark grey blend in well when you are using fabrics with multiple colours. Use tan, navy or black for dark colours. If you are sewing a light block to a dark block use a darker thread. You would think it would be the other way around but I have learned from experience that that is not so.
50 weight Aurifil thread is often recommend for piecing and seems to be a favourite among a lot of EPP stitchers, though I find it a bit expensive. I suppose it’s fine if you just use a limited colour palette.
I have also heard Mettler thread recommended for strength and durability.
I splash out quite a bit on threads that show on the surface, embroidery floss and Pearl/Perle cottons, in a range of colours and variegated colours. This means I have less money to spend on the less visible thread that sews blocks together but it’s good to experiment with a variety if you can afford it. For good value I use Gutermann cotton thread for piecing. I find it a little easier to work with than the Coats cottons that I started with which seemed to shred and break easily. I began using those because that was what my mother used but she was stitching.
Sue Daly recommends Superior Thread’s Bottom Line for EPP and I know this is a favourite with some piecers. It is a polyester thread which I prefer not to use on a cotton quilt but that is just a personal preference. I also find it is quite expensive here in the UK.
Some EPP stitchers feel that polycotton threads are a good choice as they don’t shred or break like as cotton. However, I have been warned that, over time, when you wash your quilt the cotton fabric will shrink, but the polycotton thread does not and can pull at the fabric in an unsightly way. If anyone has found this to be the case I’d love to hear what they have to say.
If you are making a wall quilt that you don’t plan to wash then I imagine that you can use whatever thread that you enjoy using.
Threads for Fine Stitch Quilting:
There is thread made specifically for hand quilting, in a range of colours. It is heavier than regular sewing thread and you don’t need to use beeswax on it. Again I think it is best to go for the 100% cotton variety if your quilt is 100% cotton. Match your thread to the quilt at first until you can confidently produce small even stitches.
Threads for Big Stitch quilting:
Here are several ideas to experiment with:
Pearl Cotton – I use 8 which comes in a wonderful range of colours and is just thick enough to show on the surface of a quilt without being too obtrusive. You could try Valdani 5 and 12, which are finer and heavier respectively.
Anchor Cotton A Broder 16
DMC Cotton Tapisserie 4
DMC Linen Embroidery Floss
Valdani 3 strand floss and variegated 3 strand floss
Hillcreek Designs Normandy Linen thread in various weights (40/2 30/3 or 16/2)
Habu Japanese Yarn
Crochet Cotton 20
Thread For Basting:
I use cheap thread for basting so that I don’t use up oodles of good thread on what will soon be unpicked and discarded..