Dealing with EPP Tails - Basting Diamonds for Easy Stitching

One of the unique things about paper pieces for English paper piecing (EPP) are the little fabric tails you get when basting any shape that has an angle narrower than 90°. You do get them with half square triangles when machine sewing, but those are usually trimmed away before sewing further. So, what to do with these tails? Read on to hear my tips for basting diamond tails so that they don't create hassles later on!

EPP diamonds

Do your EPP tails bother you?

When I first started EPP, I used to thread baste all my shapes, and I would fold any EPP tails under the shape and out of the way. Once I took up glue basting, that was way too sticky and not worth the effort! And so, I've learned to embrace EPP tails, and mostly just ignore them until I need to tuck them out of the way when stitching.

If your EPP tails are making you feel like you're all thumbs, you can give them a little trim after basting (just leave at least 1/4" for seam allowance!), or you can cut your shapes with my acrylic templates, which have most points flattened to make them easy to cut around. It won't eliminate them completely, but it'll make them less pronounced than you see in my photos below. I cut my diamonds from strips, always get EPP tails, and just work around them.

I do have a trick, however, for basting in a way that helps them sit flat and neat after stitching. It's really simple, and something that didn't even occur to me until this week, when I started taking note of how basting affected the direction of my EPP tails. I can't believe I've never noticed it before!

nested EPP tails on the back of a star

A Clever Basting Trick for EPP Diamonds

Because I baste a lot, and baste in big batches, I already knew that I generally baste in a clockwise direction, and that generally my diamonds ended up basted with the tails facing to the right at the top and the left at the bottom. Because of this, my tails nested neatly together in the centre of a star. So, whenever anyone asked for advice about tails bunching together in the middle, I would tell them to always baste in the same direction, and thought that solved it. But, while paying attention this week, I noticed that it's not just the direction that matters, but the side you start basting from! 

wide angle of a diamond
start basting here

Start Below the Wide Angle

Take a close look at the first image above. I always start basting from the edge just BELOW the wide angle of the diamond, marked with 1. Then, I move around the diamond clockwise, in the order I've marked the numbers on the paper piece. When I baste like this, my EPP tails always end up facing opposite directions

Now look at the picture below. I've basted in the same direction (clockwise), but started on the edge ABOVE the wide angle. When I baste like this, both my EPP tails face right. How weird is that?! 

basting differences

And for the lefties out there, or others wondering if it works moving anti-clockwise too, here's some diamonds below basted in an anti-clockwise direction. 

Note: for those good at mental rotation, you'll note that if you turned these diamonds around, the first 1 would be on the top right and the second 1 would be on the bottom right, which is what I recommended for the top pair. This means that it's not just the side you start at, but the combination of side and direction. 

basting differences

Meeting in the Middle

Why is this important? Well, it's not really, in the scheme of things! ;P But, if you're meeting diamonds in the middle of a star, and your EPP tails stick out in a opposite directions, your EPP tails will always nest around the star centre. 

If you baste from the top right edge in a clockwise direction, like I did with the coral fabric above, you will only get your EPP tails to nest if you always put the EPP tails facing the same direction in the centre. This could work in most cases, BUT, if you're fussy cutting, it means you have to pay close attention to which side of the diamond is UP, and always start at the same side of the print. That's the kind of attention I rarely have to give to anything! So I'm sticking to my clockwise, starting below the 120° angle routine. 

nested diamonds

Ready to sew your diamonds, EPP tails and all?

EPP tails are going to come up with any shape that has an angle less than 90°, which is pretty common in EPP unless you stick to hexagons! Take a look at how I stitch around my EPP tails in my blog post about getting perfect points by clicking below!


  • Suzee Newton

    I found this to be very informative…I recentley started doing EPP full time…i can no longer sew from vision issues/diabetis…so epp….was a great choice for me…I am gearing up for a diamond project…and needed this

  • Shari

    I am new to glue basting. How far ahead do you all glue baste and stockpile your pieces? I want to have pieces prepped so that I can sew them together while on a trip but don’t know how far in advance that can be done. Thanks!

  • Dot Stuit

    I am new to EPP and I haven’t really thought about how I baste the diamonds. I am slowly working thru basting all them and stopping along the way to sew some to together so I have one star of each color I am using. I, like Robina, baste opposite sides at the same time and tails are opposite of each other. I find it helps me keep the seam allowance more even on each diamond.

  • Denise Newman

    This is brilliant. I am going to try. Thank you

  • Robina

    I baste opposite sides of the diamond first, then the other 2. This also ends up with the tails facing opposite directions. I might try the clockwise method for the half hexagon trapeziums, though. Usually I do the sides of the trapezium first then the top and bottom, but this way you end up with 2 ears at the bottom…

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