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EPP by machine compared

I am a member of the Dutch Modern Quilt Guild and this year we have a Block of the Month (BOM) with blocks designed by members of the guild. Every quarter has a different theme. The theme for the last quarter of the year is ‘slow stitching’. Well, I am not particularly a fan of hand stitching, but I do love the effect.

The block for November is an English Paper Piecing (EPP) block. This particular block, designed by Emmely Treffers (insta @infectiousstitches), can also be made with regular machine piecing and a curve, but I wanted to explore the machine EPP possibilities with this block. Since this BOM is meant for the members, I cannot share this pattern, just the method, which you can apply to any EPP project.

Every block comes in three sizes 3, 6 and 9 inch. I chose the smallest – because the least hand stitching – but that also meant handling small bits to prepare the pieces before stitching.

Preparing the pieces

I printed the pattern on thick paper and cut the pieces apart – with only the seam allowance at the outline of the block, because it will be regular pieced into the sampler quilt top. I followed instructions and folded my fabric around the templates and stuck them with washable glue.

1. English Paper Piecing

First I started to make this block by hand – I need something to compare the results of the other methods against. Tips that I heard from members of my Dutch MQG Bee was the direction of stitching: stitch front to back. This way you have a better view on what you are stitching and the position feels better for your hands. Another tip is first thread your needle and then cut the thread. Instead of threading the needle at the end that you just cut. This way the thread will not twist as much. And honestly this messing up my thread is one of the reasons I don’t like hand stitching. I used poly sewing thread. To hold the two parts together I used my MQG member magnet, which did the trick just fine! And with these tips, I must say, I loved sewing my first EPP block.

2. Exact same process EPP by machine

There are various ways to machine EPP and I tested all that I could find and think off. First, most logic one is to copy the exact process and bring it to the machine. I laid down two parts on top of each other (fronts facing each other) and sew them together using a small zigzag. I tested the size of the zigzag and found that 1.5-1.5 was most convenient, because any smaller and I wouldn’t catch the fabric anymore. Any bigger and I would catch too much of the paper template also.

This block had a curve in it – and because I chose the small version of this block (3 inch) this was quite a hassle to do by machine, but doable. I tried two different types of thread: invisible thread (right side of the leaf) and poly sewing thread with matching colour (left side).

Getting the template paper out of this block was less convenient than with the hand stitched block, because the machine also catches the paper, but it was doable. Of course with templates of wash away stabilizer it will become much easier.

The result looks quite pleasurable and can compare to the hand stitched version. Difference is that it lied a little less flat with the templates in, but after washing and ironing it laid nice and flat. The seams are just a little bit more noticeable as small channels – possibly due to the leftover paper in the seam itself or it could be due to the machine stitches being more thight than my hand stitches.

3. Connect kissing parts

Another method is just to lay down the parts next to each other and tape them (at the back) secure in place. I heard some like to hand stitch this way also, sewing on the backside. By machine I sewed them on the front side with a small zigzag using clear thread, because this zigzag will be visible on top of the fabric. When doing this, make sure you catch the fabric on both sides to really sew them together. I found that a bit longer stitch than the previous method worked best (1.5 wide and 2.0 long). Even though I did tape them at the back, I still pressed both sides against each other for the best result.

The curve was much easier to do this way, because both sides fit perfectly together. Getting the paper out was the same as previous method.

The result is more visible when looked at close by, but judge for yourself if you appreciate or dislike the look.

4. Applique EPP

I didn’t test this method. There is a range of possibilities if you want the seam to show, or even use decorative stitches. I wanted to test machine EPP while trying to copy the look of the hand stitched version. Now careful applique, maybe even with invisible thread, could also do the job. I imagine that the visible result of the applique on foundation or stabilizer will be much about the same as the method of the ‘kissing parts’, see above. With applique on a foundation, you remove the templates before sewing, so that would take care of the hassle of removing the paper from your block.

Another possibility is to use wash-away or stay-in stabilizer which is more often used in applique. Maybe this could also work for the machine EPP method I talk about above. So still some things to test left over for me…

5. Applique on itself

The last method I tried is interesting but a little bit complicated because of the puzzle. Basically the type of swing here is also applique – the non-noticeable way with small stitches and thin or invisible thread. But this time the pieces of the block are appliqued onto one another without a foundation at the backside. This means you only have to catch the fold of one of the fabric pieces. I didn’t use a stabilizer but as with regular applique I would recommend tear away stabilizer to stabilize your project while sewing. I didn’t do that, so my block looks a little less perfect. I’d like to retry this method some other time.

The puzzle is that you need to decide which side of your pieces go under and which side of the pieces go on top. The idea is to alternate this around the sides of each piece, but it needs also to match with how the other pieces are chosen. For this block for example I ended up having the stem of the leaf completely go under the other pieces.

The look of this method lies in my opinion between the other two machine EPP methods that I tested. The applique is less visible than the zigzag on top and more visible than the first method.

1. EPP by hand – 2. EPP by machine – face-to-face – 3. EPP by machine – kissing parts – 4. EPP by machine – applique on itself


First of all, you need to decide for yourself how much you like the look of the result against your preference to not sew by hand. Personally I would go for the first method sewing parts facing fronts together. Although I realize I haven’t tested more complicated designs where a lot of seams intersect with each other into one point. I imagine though, that by folding the block the same way you would do for hand stitching, this would also work for machine stitching. Well, you see, explaining this all I have found out there are still more things to explore. I hope you will at least have an idea what machine EPP could do for you. Happy sewing!

1. EPP by machine – kissing parts – 2. EPP by hand – 3. EPP by machine – face-to-face – 4. EPP by machine – applique on itself

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