With English paper piecing, no one-way fits all. Gone are the days where there's a right way to do traditional crafts. With the introduction of laser-cut templates and rulers, rotary cutters, and pre-cut papers, there's so much room for playing and experimenting and finding a technique that puts you in the groove! Here you'll find 4 different ways to cut fabric in preparation for English Paper Piecing (EPP). Some are best suited for scrap sewing, and others for fussy cutting, so you'll probably find yourself using a mix, depending on your project. Some require you to stand at a table, and others could probably be brought to the sofa. Enjoy finding a way that suits just you, and isn't just ‘the way it’s always been.'
How to Cut Fabric for English Paper Piecing
1. Strip Cutting
Strip cutting is my favourite way to cut fabric for English paper piecing from stash or a fabric bundle. It's perfect for when you don't need to be particular about where the shape sits on the design (eg, if you're using basics), and if you want to keep your remaining fabric tidy. Simply add ¾" (that's 3/8" to each side) to the width of the paper template, and then cut a strip that width. Then cut the shapes from the strip with a rotary cutter or scissors. I've written a whole blog post about strip cutting here which includes a handy guide to strip widths for a whole variety of shapes used in EPP.
2. Freehand with Scissors
If I'm embarking on a scrappy quilt that needs only a few shapes in lots of different prints, I often set up at the dining table with my scrap baskets and paper pieces, and cut around the shapes by hand.
To freehand cut fabric for your English paper piecing shapes, simply place your paper shape in a corner of your scrap fabric, and hold it in place with your non-cutting hand. Cut an approximate 3/8" seam allowance around the shape and then set down the fabric and shape together. Once you have a pile of cut fabric and papers, you are ready to baste!
Remember, unlike machine sewn squares and triangles, the fabric for EPP does not need to be cut accurately because it will stay in perfect shape once basted. You just need to make sure you have enough seam allowance to baste over the shape. I prefer 3/8" (1cm) rather than ¼" because you have more wiggle room when basting.
Making a quilt like this is the perfect way to get your scraps in order. When I made my Eden Quilt, I used it as an opportunity to clean out my scrap bins. It helped me get my scrap mess properly sorted by colour, and I threw out any tiny bits that were left and unusable.
3. Rotary Cutting around Acrylic Templates
If you're a little more fussy about your seam allowances being neat and even, or if you want to make sure your happy flower or little animal is centred nicely in the frame of the shape, or if you want to cut your fabrics for repeated shapes that give you a dramatic kaleidoscope effect, then acrylic templates are for you!
I love using a rotary cutter with big acrylic templates like the 3" or 4" hexagons in Cherish Quilt. Lay the pressed fabric on your cutting mat, and then place the acrylic template where you want to cut. Use a rotary cutter to cut the fabric like you would with a quilting ruler. If you have a rotating cutting mat, you can swivel this around as you cut rather than twisting your arms around the template.
4. Pencil Mark around Acrylic Templates, Then Cut with Scissors
If I'm using acrylic templates to fussy cut fabric, I usually prefer to draw around the template, then cut the fabric out with scissors. Most of the fussy cutting I do is for small pieces, with multiples in one print, like an Ice Cream Soda Quilt star. I find it quick and easy if I prep the fabric by drawing around the diamond 6 times (or however many is needed), and then cutting around the outlines all at once with scissors. Rotary cutters are sharp! This method stops my fingers from getting knicked if the acrylic template budges or the rotary cutter goes off course.
Cutting into fresh fabric to start a new project is my favourite! I hope you're inspired to get cutting in a way that makes you happy and makes progress. Having an easy cutting routine can be just the thing when trying to use our scraps or stash, or finally taking the plunge to break open that sparkly new fabric bundle. Have a play! And let me know which one works best for you.