To Glue or Not to Glue - The Great Glue Basting Conundrum

After reading through nearly 200 replies on my recent basting post, we were struck by the number of people who were concerned about the effect of the glue on the longevity of their quilt. So, Lisa Sliva set about doing some research and wrote this follow up post with her findings. Does glue ruin your fabric? Find out below!

EPP supplies

To glue or not to glue? That is the EPP basting question. When it comes to basting EPP shapes, there are two primary methods for getting the job done: glue basting and thread basting. Each one has its virtues, and often times each stitcher is rather passionate about which “side” they are on. 

In fact, in the recent post, “Basting Your EPP Shapes - Glue vs Thread,” the question was posed to each reader to share which method they prefer. The answers were widely varied! Some use both methods, depending on the project, while others are stoutly planted on one side or the other.

EPP supplies

Interestingly, while reading through comments on that post, a number of stitchers expressed concerns about glue basting their quilt projects for fear of yellowing and degradation over time. So, we decided to do a little bit of research to see what we could learn. 

This post compiles some information we discovered, but it is by no means exhaustive. The beauty of English Paper Piecing, and sewing, quilting, and crafting in general, is that you can choose whatever method works best for you. It’s your hobby, your quilt, your project. Our hope is that you would learn a little more about what glue basting actually means, and hopefully remove a few barriers that might prevent you from giving it a try, if you’ve wanted to.

photo of vintage quilt

Lignin Acid: The Culprit behind Yellowing

In the process of doing research for this post, I came across a few posts that helped me understand where yellowing actually comes from in aging quilts (or any organic matter, such as artwork, etc). Interestingly, the culprit is an acid that forms from the oxidation of lignin.* 

Lignin is a plant based chemical that naturally occurs primarily in wood. So, while cotton has a very low lignin content, many of the places where cotton and quilts are stored are made of wood (i.e. a cedar chest, cupboard, etc). So, lignin can transfer to your quilts from those sources, thus increasing the odds of it oxidizing into an acid form that would cause yellowing in your quilts.*

But, for the purposes of this post, what we want to focus on is avoiding anything that contains an acid in order to avoid the potential for yellowing in our quilts. Interestingly, if you broaden your search to the art world, even high end museums and art preservationists used adhesives that are acid free to hang and frame pieces of very old art. So, rather than worrying about the price point or specificity of the glue you use for glue basting, keep an eye of whether the glue is declared “acid free.”

glue basting a hexagon

Which glue should I choose for basting, then?

There seems to be three major brands commonly used for glue basting EPP shapes, so I wanted to go into more detail about those here. The three brands are Sewline, Bostik, and Elmer’s.

sewline glue pen

Glue Basting with Sewline

This lovely little “glue pen,” as it’s called, is something of a darling in the EPP world. With it’s precise tip, refill-ability, and various colored glue refills, it has become a trade favorite. According to our research, it originates in Australia, is water soluble, comes in either blue or pink colored glue (which dries clear), and declares itself “archival quality” (but without further defining what that means, and no additional product sheet was available on the Sewline website). Fortunately, the Amazon listing states that it is “acid-free, non-toxic and safe for children.” 

Conclusion: If we go back to the beginning of this post and consider the criteria we’re looking for, then, according to Amazon, it is acid-free, and therefore should be free from any harmful yellowing agents. Not to mention it is washable, so for a quilt or project that gets regular use, it will likely be washed sufficiently to remove any glue residue, further diminishing the potential for acid formation (even though the glue is acid-free).

bostik blu stik

Glue Basting with Bostik

This workhorse of a glue stick comes from France, and comes in a typical “school” glue stick form. It is available in 8g, 21g, and 35g tubes. You can choose either the “Glu-Stik,” which is a white glue stick that dries clear, or the “Blu-Stik,” which is a blue colored glue stick that also dries clear. Both glue sticks are water soluble.

As far as composition, the Bostik website is immediately upfront about declaring the chemical content of their glue stick in readily available product sheets, and they are the most explanatory in “lay” terms about the virtues of their glue sticks. 

They say their glue sticks contain, “a non-toxic, non-harmful adhesive and [are] safe for the whole family to use; solvent free, which is kinder to the environment. Because [they are] acid free, [they don’t] yellow or corrode the materials you are gluing.” 

Interestingly, they are the only company to declare the presence or absence of food allergens, stating each glue stick is “free from food ingredients such as wheat, gluten, flour, eggs or nut products. It does contain corn starch.”

Conclusion: Bostik is the most upfront about what chemicals they use and their effects on the environment, your projects, and you. So, to circle back to the presence of acid in these glues sticks, they are safely in the “acid-free” zone, which according to their own website, won’t cause any yellowing or corrosion in your projects. Not to mention these are also washable, so for a quilt or project that gets regular use, it will likely be washed sufficiently to remove any glue residue, further diminishing the potential for acid formation, (even though the glue is acid-free).

Of note: These glue sticks are widely available worldwide, except in the United States.


Glue Basting with Elmer's

For American readers, this white glue stick with the orange cap is the iconic school glue stick. It comes in two sizes, 7g and 40g, and in either white or purple glue color (both dry clear).

When it comes to chemical composition, they hit all of the buzz words: non-toxic, acid-free, and washable. They go on to further declare that they are even photo safe (i.e. won’t harm paper products, such as art work). Various websites that sell these glue sticks will offer a chemical product sheet, but they are not readily available on the Elmer’s website.

Conclusion: Circling back again to the criteria for this post, acid content, Elmer’s fits the bill of being acid-free, meaning that these glue sticks should be free from any harmful yellowing agents. Not to mention they are washable, so for a quilt or project that gets regular use, it will likely be washed sufficiently to remove any glue residue, further diminishing the potential for acid formation, (even though the glue is acid-free).

Of note: These glue sticks are only available in North America.

pile of EPP shapes

Price Points to Consider for Glue Basting

So, now that we know a bit more about the chemical composition of these glue sticks, and that they are all safely in the “acid-free” zone, let’s take a look at price point. I have taken the liberty of sharing prices in United States Dollars (USD) to make things comparable.

The Cost of Glue Basting with Sewline

Sadly, the pretty pink pen from Sewline is the most expensive of the bunch. At the time of this post, one Sewline pen with 1 refill is about $13 USD on Amazon. If you need refills, 6 refills are about $9 USD for approximately 32g of glue, meaning it costs about $1.50 per ~5g glue refill.

The Cost of Glue Basting with Bostik

This little guy is actually the cheapest of the bunch when bought in bulk. At the time of this post, you can buy a box of (20) 8g glue sticks from Office Works in Australia for about $0.65 USD per 8g glue stick. However, the price doubles when you purchase smaller packs, costing about $1.35 USD per 8g glue stick when bought in a two pack from the same store. 

The Cost of Glue Basting with Elmer's

These glue sticks are the runner up in price point, especially when bought in bulk like Bostik. They cost about $0.75 USD per 7g glue stick in a big box of 30 on Amazon, and only go up a little bit in price when bought in smaller packs of 4, costing about $1 USD per 7g glue stick.

Conclusion: Depending on where you live, if you plan to take on glue basting any large scale projects, Bostik and Elmer’s are the most affordable, especially when bought in bulk. And, as one lovely commenter, Judy, pointed out on the EPP basting post, she stocks up on glue sticks during back to school sales. Such a great idea to make them even more affordable. 

Of note: Some lovely commenters in the Glue vs Thread Basting post expressed that using glue was beyond their budget because of the additional cost beyond the thread they already had on hand. As I’ll share in the next section, there are lots of things to consider when choosing to glue baste a project. So, this cost breakdown is merely a tool for those who have chosen/are considering glue basting as their preferred method to baste an EPP project.

pile of EPP shapes and blocks

A Few Final Considerations for Glue Basting

As we said at the beginning of this blog post, every English paper piecer is unique and each person has the absolute freedom to choose which basting method works best for them. But, if you have been apprehensive about giving glue basting a try for fear of yellowing or degradation in your quilt projects, hopefully this post will help allay some of those fears. Or, if you have felt restricted to more expensive “fabric” glues, hopefully you will feel better about giving some other “acid-free” glues a try. And, even though we have only covered some of the major brands, if you choose to use another brand, just be sure to look for a glue that is washable, acid-free, and non-toxic.

pile of EPP stars

A Few Final Questions

All that being said, it might seem that one choice is more obvious than another. But, because everyone comes to this lovely craft with different perspectives and opinions, here are a few additional questions to ask yourself before giving glue basting a try:

  • What is the project going to be for?
  • Will the project get washed regularly?
  • What are the barriers I have to starting this project?
  • What is the timeline of this project, and could glue basting make it go faster?
  • How big are my EPP shapes, and could glue work better for them?
pulling EPP papers

A Final Bit of Food for Thought

The two non-sewing brand glue sticks covered here are widely used in schools filled with children. So, a final thought to consider is: if you would let your children use it without fear of staining, yellowing, or breakdown, doesn’t it seem to make sense that it could be safe for your quilts?

tin full of hexagons

A Final Quote

One art conservationist concluded the whole matter the best, in my opinion, stating: “Most importantly…, at the end of the day you have to be comfortable with the products you are using so I encourage you to choose the products…that work best for you.” **

So tell us, was this post helpful to you? Are you more or less likely to use glue for basting? Do you have any additional constructive thoughts about this topic?

* From an article by Brittany Lloyd of Lo and Behold Stitchery found here.

** From an article by Clare O'Neill of Photo Encaustic found here.


  • Lisa

    I just started EPP and at first was thread basting but soon switched to glue basting to minimize the wear and tear on my hands from sewing.

  • Carrie

    I most definitely almost exclusively use glue basting. I use the Sewline glue but I have used elmer’s from time to time with no problems.

    I love your Blog and Website and I am am currently doing the Henie Harvest.

  • Lisa Marie Trettel

    Very informative! I became a glue basted and haven’t looked back… I like my Sewline or Fons and Porter glue pens but purchased the new cap for the Elmer’s glue stick and it seems to work very well.

  • Sally

    Love your work here. Thanks so much. I am an all time lover of glue. I actually use the homebrand of K-Mart – Anko, and they claim to be acid free. I have been known to pick up a pack of 4 for 75cents – Australian. Hands down cheapest. I also live in a very hot part of Australia, and Bostik appears to be to0 “runny”. The anko brand is perfect for our climate.

  • Rosemary B

    I enjoyed reading this.
    EPP is so relaxing and portable.
    I do not use glue of any sort, for two reasons. I am messy and I know it will migrate onto my iron. I am very picky about my iron, and hate cleaning crud off of it.
    I like pressing my pieces super sharp and crisp. I use a spray bottle of distilled water mixed with a few squirts from my Faultless heavy starch. I try to press the fabric onto the shapes (hexies for me) and stack them up and baste them when I am out on adventures, or sitting and watching …. tee veeeee.
    One thing I do. I punch a hole in the middle of every paper piece template made from card paper.
    Loads of success. I like hand sewing. no “big dill” 🥒🙄😇🌷

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