Dear Jane: My Favorite EPP Tools and Tips

I’m still plugging along, albeit very slowly, on my Dear Jane and already I’m a whole month behind. I’m trying not to panic, but I may have set up a little morning stitching time if I ever plan to keep up. Sheesh.

Work life has been busy lately with Road to California and this past week’s trip to Sewposium in Orlando. If I were thinking more clearly, I would have brought a couple of the Dear Jane blocks on the plane with me. Five-plus hours each direction is plenty of time to get some sewing done, but instead I read the entirety of A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Then I got bronchitis and still didn’t sew anything.

But I digress. Let’s talk English Paper Piecing (EPP).

This sewing/quilt-making technique has been around for  at least a couple hundred years, which seems both crazy and wonderful. I love the long history of textile arts, somehow connecting a thread between generations and continents, preserving a craft, an art for the future as well.  Luckily for us, these days, we have the high quality tools and this lovely thing called the Internet to make it a bit easier than the ladies had it back in the 1800s.

If you’re just getting started with EPP, or struggling a bit with it, let me tell you what I use and do to make it a fun and not-so-laborious venture.

•   Kai 4″ Scissors  

Small and sharp, these 4 1/2″ serrated scissors come with a cover that keeps them safe and easy to stash in the zipper pouch. Perfect for trimming pieces and clipping threads.

•   Clover Wonder Mini Clips  

I use a Wonder Clip on on the opposite end of the seam I’m stitching to keep the washi tape in place.

•   Washi Tape

Since I sew my pieces flat and washi tape keeps the seam aligned and even without trying to use pins.

•   Bottom Line thread  

Honestly, this is my favorite EPP thread by far. There are a few lightweight threads designed specifically for the task, but the Superior Threads version is super strong and never snaps. You can get it on pre-wound bobbins or spools.

•   John James needles

I like this brand, but as proven by the needle testing we did for Sew,Mama,Sew, it really is personal preference. I like a slightly longer needle without a sharp butt (I’m prone to stabbing it into my finger).

As I mentioned, I prefer to sew my pieces together when they are flat. I can get a tighter stitch that is not seen from the front. I used to simply try to clip it together, but they would slide apart. I started using blue tape because it doesn’t stick to the fabric. I switched to washi tape for the cuteness factor only.

Here’s a pictorial rundown of how I sew my pieces:

First, I pin the pattern piece to whichever fabric it needs to be made with. I’ve coded these as BG=background and G= grey.

I cut the fabric pieces as I go, trimming there to a heavy 1/4″ seam allowance. They are rarely even and often not-quite-straight, but in the end it doesn’t matter at all.

Using an obvious-color thread, I stitch right through the Dear Jane paper template. For my hexagons, apple cores, etc. I do not stitch through the paper, but because this project will live for a long time in a box and there are a lot of triangles and squares, I want to make there that papers don’t shift as I sew and then store them.

I get each square going by sewing just two pieces at a time. As I get pairs together, I’ll start putting the pairs together. No matter the order of assembly, all the seams start this way.

From the right side, I tape the pieces together, making sure the edges are even and correctly aligned.  Then I clip the end that I’ll sew last o that it all stays in place as I make my way across the seam. One of the issues I have when I don’t do this is that the pieces shift ever so slightly and the end won’t match.

I start by knotting the thread and securing it away from the corner/edge. Then I stab the needle through the very corner of each piece.

Working my way across the edge, I take tiny stitches, then tug them tight. It might look a little crazy-making, but once you get a rhythm going they piece together pretty quickly.  In the end, the stitches look fine from the back and are invisible from the right side.


I toss these back into my little zip pouch and keep putting them together, two pieces at a time until the block is finished. Now that life is a little more on-track, I’m hoping to get a few of these done this week. I’ve already got the templates for Rows B and C waiting for me, so I have to try to catch up a bit!

Are you doing the Dear Jane, too? How are your blocks coming along? Check out everyone else’s blocks on Instagram with a quick search of @dearjanegoesepp.

Just keep stitching!

Oh Dear Jane!

Dear Jane,

I fell in love with your crazy, beautiful quilt when I first saw it two decades ago ago. I bought the Dear Jane book (by Brenda Papadakis) a few years later, dreaming of my own version. Then I started collecting fabrics for it, especially lots of grey fabrics because I’d decided that is what I wanted it made with. And there it stopped. Well, except for the fabric collecting. You know how that is; any excuse to buy fabric and I’ll do it. But the idea of actually making the quilt was put on pause.

So now six, seven years later, this lovely little company called Paper Pieces decides to release a paper pieced version of your quilt using  Brenda’s book. The Dear Jane 18-Month Quilt Along should be a title that would keep me away from doing it, but I’ve been so enamored by that quilt I just couldn’t help myself. You know how I am, Jane; I signed up right away.

I got the first set of paper pieces for Row A at the end of December, but didn’t dare open it up and look for a few more days. And honestly when I opened it and poured all those itty bitty pieces out, I nearly cried. But then I remember you, doing this all without your Kai scissors or special paper piecing templates or good needle and thread or probably even decent lighting, and I pulled myself up from a fetal position on the floor and decided to give it a go. I’m only two blocks in (just 223 to go!), but I’m really going to try, Jane. It will be my magnum opus. My quilt to keep.

Row B showed up two days ago and I’m not even looking at it yet. One row at a time, right? It may end up being a three-year project for me, but so be it. I will finish it or die trying.

Thank you, dear Jane, for your beautiful work and the inspiration to venture into an overwhelmingly large project that will eat up my evening for years to come. I hope to make you proud in the end.

All the best,





P.S. If you want to follow along with my very slow process, you can follow me on Instagram: @teresacoates. Search for #dearjanegoesepp for others’ beautiful work, too.