So for Leila in particular who asked questions about hand piecing that I'd never really thought about, here's a post on how I do it. It's really 'simples' (stick with it if you're not British). There are also some really good resources already out there which go into it in much greater detail than I am going to and I'll mention those at the end of this post.
First off though EPP (English Paper Piecing) versus regular hand piecing- ie stitching two pieces of fabric together the way you would on a sewing machine.
While I admire some of the tiny, intricate EPP work I see on the internet, conversely I do see quite a bit where I think 'why did you go to all the trouble of EPPing that when a quicker and just as accurate end result could have been achieved just by sewing the bits of fabric together.'
I think EPP would be useful if you were sewing really tiny pieces of fabric together and you were worried about fraying but for the vast majority of the time, I don't personally think it is necessary. EPP just has too many stage processes yet I don't think you get a better end result.
So to get started with hand piecing you need your shapes. I tend only to hand piece more intricate shapes that would take a bit of maneuvering under the sewing machine.
The shapes I make with template plastic.
You can either cut them out with or without seam allowances and I explained the pros and cons of both in a previous post.
For the project I'm working on at the moment, I am using a template with a seam allowance and I explained how to mark the ends of your seams here
The size of your needle is important - the smaller and finer you go, logically the smaller your stitches will go and small is definitely what you are after. Clover Black Gold needles are the ones I use.
So taking my current project, I want to set this piece in, which involves sewing three sides of the shape with two inset corners.
You are going to start with the two pieces of fabric, right sides together and insert your needle through the marking dot you have made on both pieces of fabric. I'm starting on the right hand side of that brown shape and I'm going to sew in the three sides.
You are going to make a 'small as you can' stitch on the spot and then do it again to secure. You could also knot the end of your thread and then dispense with the two small stitches on the spot but I never remember to do that each time so this is what works best for me.
Now, if you feel confident, you're going to do a small line of running stitch towards your next end dot...which has a pin through it securing the two pieces of fabric. If you're not confident, pencil in the line between the two dots.
When you get to the end dot - and presuming you are then turning at an angle because eg. you are sewing a Y seam - leave your needle poking through the fabric nearest to you/facing you but not the back/other one and pivot it so it then goes through the new piece of fabric (at the back) that you'll be sewing along. Hopefully this next pic will make sense.
I tend to use the nails on my left index finger and thumb as pincers and I bring them together between the fabric and push them up against the needle when it is in that corner position to feel if the needle has caught just the two pieces of fabric and not the third. It makes more sense when you try it rather than me sitting here typing it trying to explain it. Trust me.
I then like to do a couple of really small stitches to secure the corner and then you're all set and ready to start sewing to the next set of dots at the end of your line. Make sure you've secured those end dots together with a pin through them.
That really is the 'hardest' part and if you master it (which you will) it'll give you a nice, crisp inset seam with everything lying nice and flat and the points looking sharp. When you finally get to the end of where you are sewing, finish with a couple of back stitches and then you're done.
What is the optimum number of stitches per inch? I don't know and I don't really care. Just focus on making them small and evenly spaced and you'll be fine. If you can pile on as many as you can, onto the needle, before pulling the thread through, that will definitely speed things up.
Mine certainly aren't perfect but they do the job.
Do I press? I do a light finger press and then every time I complete a row or a block, I press.
Do I double up my thread? No, I just use a single strand of thread and off I go.
There are others who are way more adept at explaining hand piecing so please take a look at this video which I've recommended before - she gives instructions for both hand and machine piecing inset seams.
The ultimate book on hand piecing is also by Jinny Beyer - Quilt Making By Hand. I just can't think of any better book that explains the whole step-by-step process with clear visual instructions.
And that's it.
Adddendum: If you have any further questions I'll add them and answer them in this blog post.
With grateful thanks to The Photographer's Assistant age 11 who had to be dragged away from the more pressing business of 'styling my hair' to take the images for this post.