Basting Your EPP Shapes - Glue vs Thread

I've spent the week watching The Newsroom with Jeff Daniels. Have you seen it? It's about an idealistic anchor and his team creating the kind of news program you could offer if money wasn't an issue or if everyone was passionate about politics. Nothing at all to do with basting EPP shapes, but it has me feeling a little disingenuous as I sit to write this 'Glue vs Thread' basting post, because rather than offering a fair debate from both sides, I am well and truly a card-carrying glue baster. Where's my panel of experts!

I tried EPP three times in my early days of quilting. The first project went unfinished forever. I have no idea where it is now. The second got cut up and used in an orphan block mash-up. The third did actually get finished, because it was a baby quilt for my third-born that I wanted done before her birth. But after that, I decided I was done. I had made my one hexie quilt that every quilter should try, and I never needed to go near that again. 

A couple of years later, my local sewing machine repair guy went AWOL while my machine was at his house for a routine service. It stayed there for 4 or 5 months and I was forced to either take up hand-work again or buy or borrow another machine. Due to my circumstances at the time, EPP was my best option. 

I have to say that with all my chaos and mess and chronic uncertainty, one thing I really like about myself is that I'm really good at diving into plan B. I don't get stuck. And so, now that English Paper Piecing was becoming a bit more popular, with pre-cut shapes, and specialty glue pens available, I jumped in feet first, and ordered all the toys that would make this time different. 

Now, usually this is the part of the story where I say that it turns out that the toys were a waste of time and money, and I should have known that 200 years of quilters had it right all along. But the toys totally worked. I started to copy a quilt from the 1890s and I was hooked. 

(As a complete aside, this is when I also got the idea to make paper piecing kits because firstly, I bought 100 shapes and they weren't nearly enough, but I had no idea to check first because I usually just dove into my stash and started sewing. And secondly because I chose the wrong size, and about half way in, realised my first big EPP project was going to finish at 110" square! Years later, I remade this quilt in a more respectable size and called it Alexandria.)

Different Ways to Baste EPP Shapes

So I'm going to lay out the pros and cons of glue basting and thread basting as well as a little how-to for each, but you should know that the pros of thread basting aren't mine, they're just what my lovely thread-basting customers say whenever I bring this up. If you're one of those folks, and I miss something, please add it to the comments below. 

The pros and cons aren't evenly weighted, and they're very subjective. You can decide which ones matter to you. My goal isn't to convert anyone to a certain kind of basting EPP shapes. I really don't care how you baste! My goal is to make it easy for you to allow more time for creativity. And in a busy and distracting world, if there's a lot of friction in the way you do something, it's much harder to enjoy giving space to it. I thought I hated EPP, but really I just hated using stiff cereal box cardboard, and I wanted to dive in and start sewing already. I'm so grateful today that I gave it another chance by trying some different techniques. 

Glue Basting

To glue baste, place the paper piece on the back of the fabric piece. Put a small line of glue along one edge. Don't glue over the edge. It's better still if you can leave a gap between your glue line and the edge of the paper. Doing so will stop glue getting into the fold and making it harder to stitch through.

Fold the seam allowance over. Turn the shape and fabric around so that you can glue the next edge easily. Repeat until all the fabric edges are folded over the shape. 

I get equally great results from regular craft glue stick over a quilting brand. (I use Bostik, a lot of my US friends use Elmers.)

Edited after feedback (thank you!): 

- The glue I use is water soluble, as is the quilting brand, so any residue will come out in the wash.

- If you're a glue newbie, make just one block to begin with and get feedback. Is it hard to stitch through the fold? Is it hard to take the papers out? You might be using too much glue. Is the fabric fraying when you pull it up? You could try a bigger seam allowance.

Glue Basting Pros:

  • Speed. It's very fast.
  • Accuracy. You get a much tighter fold over the paper. 
  • Fun. (I'm just adding it there as my purely subjective opinion. I really, really enjoy the basting stage now that I use glue.)
  • I prefer peeling the paper up to snipping threads at the end.

Glue Basting Cons:

  • Mess. You get mess on your fingers, and glue globs build up around the stick. I like having a scrap bit of fabric to wipe up the globs every now and then so that they don't fall off into your fabric fold.
  • Set up. I like to take over the dining table for this one. I do have a great laptop table that I use on the couch, and sometimes for travel, but generally I keep it at home.
  • Requires more pressing after you take the papers out. (if you have a lot of trouble peeling up the fabric, try using less glue)
  • Consumable. You have to keep buying more, and you throw out the glue cartridges when you're done.

Thread Basting

To thread baste, secure the fabric to the paper piece somehow before you start. Some people use a dab of glue between the fabric and paper, others use a Clover Clip. Fold two adjacent seam allowances over the paper piece. Using needle and thread with a knot at the end, stitch through the fabric fold. Turn the piece in you hand to the next corner, and fold the next seam over. Thread through the fabric fold. Continue around the shape. 

One of my followers on Instagram recommended the technique shown in the photos so you don't have to stitch through the fabric twice. I thought that was a great idea! Also, you need to note that once you get bigger than a 1" side, you need to stitch through the paper also, and then come back up through the middle of the side, and then down through the next corner. 

Thread Basting Pros:

  • People who love thread basting tell me they get very quick at it with practice.
  • There are no sticky fingers.
  • It's a great use of scrap thread on bobbins or the random thread you inherited from someone who knew you loved sewing.
  • It's portable - you don't need to lean on a table to do it.
  • It's easier to take the papers out (if shapes are small) and easier to press at the end.

Thread Basting Cons:

  • It feels slower and more fiddly to me. I've never gotten into a rhythm with the stitches. At my current pace, I am 5 times slower than glue basting.
  • You need to pull the stitches out at the end if you thread through the paper.

Final Thoughts about Basting EPP Papers

Well, if I was reading this as a newbie, I would try thread basting first without a second thought! It really is very good on paper. It can be easy when making decisions about process to weigh up these things like it's purely a rational choice. But I am not a rational person and I choose the process I enjoy more rather than the one that makes more sense. I have come to love glue basting EPP shapes, and because of that, I love English Paper Piecing. If you've given it a try before and it didn't work for you, tune in to which part led to the frustration, and rather than throwing out the whole baby, tweak the technique. Perhaps like me, you'll discover a whole world of life-giving joy waiting for you.

Which basting do you prefer? I would love to hear why. Share your experience below to add more voices to the debate!


  • Susan

    Thankyou this is so so helpful

  • Shellie Whild

    I was introduced to EPP when I was 12 years old and have never tried glue basting but I’m sure I wouldn’t like it. You mentioned speed being a factor in your choice but for me it’s more about relaxing, enjoying the process and watching the quilt top come together slowly. I actually prefer to hand sew – all my piecing is done that way. I own a sewing machine but never use it. I like to be able to pick up my latest project out of my sewing basket and just begin sewing. Having to gather a bunch of other supplies, sit at a table etc does nothing for me. I like to sit in my armchair to sew and it’s a peaceful time for me, relaxing and taking me out of myself. I do like your kits. I find they keep me on track as I have all the bits I need.

  • Catherine Owen

    I like to use a mixture I make by cooking some cornflour in water and boiling it. Allow it to cool, then store in fridge. I dilute this down quite a bit with water and paint it around the seam allowance, then iron till dry. I notice you don’t seem to mind that your seam allowances are not regular. I like mine to be even. Hexie Harvest is lots of fun. Thanks Catherine

  • Pat Carlise

    I like to cut my paper shapes from a double layer of freezer paper, then just press my seam allowances to the sticky side of the paper templates. The templates can be used a couple of times. No mess, no basting, and the templates come out easily. I hope that freezer paper templates will soon be offered for sale.

  • JJ

    I am quite slow with my EPP projects, often distracted by other smaller projects in between. I have not tried glue, because I am concerned it either the fabric won’t stay stuck to the hexies (my favorites) in the months-long breaks I have been known to take to work on other things, or will be too stuck after months and I won’t be able to get it out of the shapes without distorting them. Does anyone have experience with long delays and how glue holds up? Also, I would love a lesson in acute angles for EPP. I know you are supposed to leave the tails, but I am having trouble getting my pointed shapes to look good (too much fabric where points come together?) which is why I always go back to hexies! Please consider a lesson about making good points and other acute-angle shapes! Thank you…

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