In the past, I've been a big proponent of glue basting for English Paper Piecing (EPP). But, surprise! I've switched to team thread basting. Scandalous, I know.
At Quilt Market, I had the pleasure of meeting Jill Shaulis and Vicki Olsen of Yellow Creek Quilt Designs, my neighbors in the Windham Fabrics booth. They were stitching up their own pattern, Stars in the Garden, I was drawn in by the tiny 1/2" hexies. After some chatting, she converted me. I'm happily thread basting my current EPP project and here's why I now prefer it to glue basting:
1. Glue basting doesn't really save time.
The main I and most people who were/are glue basters ditched the thread is because glue basting is supposedly faster. Just a few swipes with a glue stick will do the job faster than threading a needle, knotting your thread and basting, right? If you're slow on the draw with your needle, maybe so. However, even if glue basting saves you time on the prep work, you will end up paying it back when it comes time to remove your papers. Having done a number of glue basted EPP projects, I can attest that peeling the paper away from the fabric takes some time. With thread basting, a seam ripper or pair of thread snips will make quick work of your basting and release your papers without a struggle.
2. Glue basting gets sticky.
The Elmer's glue sticks I formerly used for basting have a fairly wide diameter (about 3/4"), meaning a flat swipe covers applies more glue than I need for a 1/4" - 3/8" seam allowance. The result is exposed, sticky paper. I would sometimes compensate by applying the glue at an angle, similar to a lipstick bullet, but this would cause my glue stick to start getting deformed. Either way, I had sticky fingers within a few minutes. I imagine this is what a child's hands feel like. I swear, tiny children are always sticky. I think they secrete grape jelly from their skin like amphibians. Anyway, I hate being sticky. Thread is not sticky. Problem solved.
3. Glue basting shortens the life of your EPP papers.
Even with the baby-strength purple Elmer's glue sticks, a glue stick is still a glue stick. When the time comes to remove my papers, I count myself lucky if I can remove my glue basted papers without outright ripping them. At best I can reuse them 2 or 3 times before they become a sticky mess or fall apart. With thread basting, I can get many more uses out of the papers as the needle holes take a lot longer to accumulate to a point where the papers stop being useful. Less paper waste is better in my book.
4. Thread trash is better than plastic trash.
I like to do what I can to be environmentally friendly when possible, and I've started feeling really guilty about generating unnecessary plastic trash. While the Elmer's glue sticks are cheap and last longer than the F&P refillable glue "pen", they get used up surprisingly fast. I was going through 6 packs of glue sticks on a regular basis, and each empty plastic tube made me feel bad. Tossing a small handful of cotton thread snippets in the trash is obviously a greener option.
5. No more hunting for hiding papers.
Once your project is all stitched up, a glue basted piece looks the same a piece that's had the paper removed when viewed from the right side. I used to find myself hunting for (and finding) hiding papers after I thought I had removed them all. With thread basting, there is no doubt where those papers are still hanging out.
6. Thread basting is easier for travel.
I like taking EPP to guild meetings or appointments that require me to sit in a waiting room. The problem is that glue basting requires a work surface unless you want some extra sticky fingers. Meanwhile, I can thread baste easily without a table, so I don't have to worry about prepping pieces in advance.