English paper piecing (also known as mosaic piecing or just “EPP”) is becoming really popular at the moment. This is a very old technique which was used to make the wonderful 1718 coverlet, which you may have seen recently at the Festival of Quilts.

From the Collection of the Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles; Image used by permission of QGBI. 

Fabric is first tacked round paper pieces cut out to exactly the shape and size required. Traditionally, because paper was expensive, any available scraps were recycled. The papers are still in an unfinished quilt top I own which dates from 1840s, and you can see that a child’s copybook, with its repetitive practice phrases has been reused. Nowadays we tend to use thin card, which is stiffer, and hence easier to keep the shape correct.

Mosaic piecing (EPP) is still a great technique to use on awkward shapes, or when you want to “fussy cut” your fabric so that particular parts of it appear in certain places on the patchwork pieces.

Striped fabrics can be used really effectively in patchwork, and controlling the position of the stripes by piecing over papers is a good way to get precise results, particularly on small pieces. This cross bookwrap was made (from one of my husband’s old shirts!) for a tombola at the Festival of Quilts a few years ago – I was very sad to see this go as I really like it.

Another mosaic patchwork project that I designed was a peg bag, which gets used regularly at home.

The patchwork design on it is called Amethyst. Because it involves set in corners, it would be quite difficult to piece on the sewing machine, but this does not present a problem when piecing by hand.

Can you see how I carefully chose the direction of the stripes to give added effect to the design?

I particularly liked the way the stripes appeared to swirl round at the centre, so I designed this little mug rug project to teach at the Festival of Quilts, which uses the same idea.

Those in the class enjoyed it, so I thought you might like to see it how it was made too – if you think you would like to try it for yourself, you can buy the download pattern or a full kit from the Shop.

First, card pieces are cut out to exactly the shape and size required, and fabric is cut out with a seam allowance.

Then, the fabric is wrapped round and tacked in place all round.

Although some people use fabric basting glue for this temporary hold nowadays, or just tack through the seam allowance, I still prefer to tack right through the card, as I find that I can control the position of the fabric exactly – this is particularly important for the striped fabric.

The swirling effect obtained from the striped fabric depends on all the pieces having exactly the same portion of the striped fabric at the centre.

If the cutting is left to chance, this won’t work – can you see that although the same striped fabric is used for each of these three pieces, the colour at the tip will be different for all of them?

The trick to getting them all the same is to cut a rectangle of the striped fabric with the stripes running parallel to the longer edge. Then line up a recognisable part of the card with the same stripe each time.

Here, I have lined up the points at the side of the kite shape with the junction between the pale pink and mustard stripes. Now I know they will all be the same, and give the “vortex” effect at the centre.

To keep the card in the correct position on the cut out fabric while it is being tacked, I use little pieces of masking tape like this:

I gradually tack round, removing each piece of masking tape just before I tack that section.

Its particularly important to tack right to the tip, as this is the part where the stripes need to be exactly as planned.

Can you see that the masking tape on the top left hand side is still holding it in place while I tack the top right? I made the masking tape pieces really small, because I don’t want them to come over to where I would be stitching through them. I’ll take the top left piece off just before I fold that edge in.

Don’t worry about tucking everything in neatly where there is a lot of seam allowance at the points, by the way – just leave the “wings” as they are. They will tuck under each other during the assembly.

The pieces can now be stitched together.

First stitch a yellow triangle to the right hand side of each stripy kite:

Masking tape can be used to keep them lined up correctly.

Place them right sides together, and oversew the edge.

To avoid bulky stitching at the important points, I usually start a little way in from the corner with a little knot, stitch lightly to the corner, and then back over those few stitches, cutting off the knot when I get there.

Continue oversewing to the other end.

Don’t forget to remove the masking tape before you stitch that part!

When you have stitched four pairs together, take two of these units, and arrange so that the edges form a straight line:

You can hold them in alignment with a scrap of masking tape again.

Finally stitch these two units together to form a square.

This patchwork can then be assembled with wadding and backing to make the little mug rug.

Quilted circles give it the finishing touch.

If you would like to try making this for yourself, you can buy a complete kit for £8 (+ £2 P&P) containing the same fabrics that I used, full instructions, a ready-printed sheet of card templates, and even the thread and wadding. Postage is free if you buy another pattern at the same time.

If you have some suitable striped fabric already that you would like to use, then you could just buy the download pattern for £3. It includes all the hints and tips above, together with a page of templates that you can print out onto card.

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