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Quilt Paper Piecing: Our Tutorial

How to Paper Piece a Quilt

Paper piecing is a pretty big deal in the world of quilting, and it's been around for more than 100 years. It's a type of foundation piecing where you sew patches directly onto a template or foundation. This way, you can perfectly replicate portions of a quilt block or an entire quilt. If you're looking to achieve unparalleled accuracy, read on to find out how to paper piece a quilt block.

different cut out fabrics on the table - how to paper piece quilting
Foundation Materials for a Paper Piece

Foundation templates for paper piecing can be temporary or permanent. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of using different foundation materials:



  • You can use a longer stitch length with permanent foundations.

  • They stabilize patches, so you can use odd bits and pieces without worrying about how fabric grain is placed.


  • The shorter stitch length with temporary foundations makes it easier to perforate the template and keep seams stable when the foundations are pulled away, but keep in mind that short stitches can be a challenge to remove if you need to rip out a seam to correct an error.

  • Permanent foundations make the seam allowances bulky where foundation pieced units are sewn together.

  • Temporary foundations add more time to the project because you need to remove the foundation.

  • The extra layer added by permanent foundations can make hand quilting a challenge.


Temporary Foundation


There are several types of paper used for temporary foundation paper piecing, including blank newsprint and smooth vellum. It's essential that the material is thin enough to fit through laser and inkjet printers and easy to remove once you no longer require the foundation. You can get foundation paper that's made specifically for the job, with some even dissolving in water so you can speed up the removal process.


Permanent Foundation


There are plenty of alternatives to foundation paper piecing for permanent foundation pieces, such as lightweight muslin cloth and non-woven interfacing. Keep in mind that woven fabric often stretches when handled, which can result in an uneven finish. When working with muslin, use a dry iron to remove moisture by pressing the quilt blocks during assembly. All you usually need to do to print on fabric is back it using freezer paper, which many manufacturers make ready-made for quilters.


Permanent foundations are perfect if you're looking to achieve a stiffer appearance in the finished quilt block. They can also be great for making string quilts, because you don't need to take additional weight into consideration.


Pros and Cons of Foundation Paper Piecing


The real beauty of foundation paper piecing is the precision it allows you to work with. However, there are some downsides that might be important to some people. First, you might risk wasting fabric when paper piecing a quilt block. The technique involves cutting each block larger than you might think, with any excess trimmed away.


What's more, foundation paper piecing can be slower for beginners who haven't yet got their heads around chain piecing sections and using other techniques for speed. When you first start out, focus on getting it right instead of trying to be fast so you get into good habits and create perfect quilts. Nonetheless, unless you use dissolving foundation paper, you'll still need to fold it, cut the seam and press it open. There's no other way of speeding up that final task, but the beautifully crisp and accurate results are worth it!


Before You Start Paper Piece Quilting


Before you get started, here are a few tips to help you avoid common pitfalls associated with foundation paper piecing:

  • While you add half an inch to a block in regular piecing, you'll add one inch for paper piecing so there's a margin for error.

  • It's possible to make precuts for a block when using foundation paper piecing, but you can also cut them as you go depending on your preference. When there are lots of repeated and regular shapes, it's more efficient to precut.

  • Try to reduce the stitch length to approximately 1.5 inches when sewing foundation paper piecing seams.

  • Sew seams along the template's printed lines, then add fabric to the quilt block using the numbers on the template. The final seam allowance is usually indicated on the outer line on the template.

  • You sew onto the back of the template when foundation paper piecing, so you'll end up with a mirror image of the template on the finished quilt blocks. This is important to keep in mind when designing asymmetrical patterns, numbers and letters.


Stitch Length and Needles


Here's an example of the materials you'll need when paper piecing:

  • Paper piecing can dull needles because they pass through several layers of additional paper and material, so be sure to start each new piece with a new needle.

  • Reduce stretch by lining up the grain of the fabric along the outer perimeter of a temporary foundation's quilt block.

  • Aim to use 15 to 20 stitches, with the higher stitch count for minis with short seams so they don't unravel when you remove the foundation.


You'll Need

  • Paper piecing quilt pattern block

  • Tracing paper

  • Fabric

  • Thread

  • Sewing pins

  • Scissors or rotary cutter for cutting fabric and paper

  • Glue


How to Paper Piece a Quilt Block


If you're looking to learn paper piecing, you've come to the right place. Here are 12 steps to get started:


Step 1


Print your template, or use freezer paper or tracing paper to create your foundation paper. Roughly cut around the template, leaving an inch and a half around each edge. Next, cut the fabric into big enough pieces to cover each numbered section, or cut it to the size of the whole block, with an inch and a half buffer.


Step 2


Lay the foundation piecing for section one in the allocated space, with the back of the paper backing the fabric. Ensure there's excess fabric and secure the template using glue or a pin.


Step 3


With the fabric side of the foundation paper piece template facing you, lay the second piece of fabric on top of section two. Make sure the paper side of the template has one straight edge of new fabric overlapping the line between sections one and two, and that section two is fully covered by the second piece.


Step 4


Reduce stitch length to one inch and sew along the line between each section, with stitches beginning and ending beyond the line.


Step 5


Fold the paper template along the line you've stitched and measure a quarter inch from the paper, then trim, leaving the excess seam allowance. Flip the block over so the fabric is on top and use a hot, dry iron to press the second piece of fabric in place. A bit of glue might be helpful for the second piece of fabric to prevent it from moving about while you work on piece three.


Step 6


Place section three's fabric on top of the block so the correct sides of pieces one and two are facing each other and the "wrong" side is facing your way. Hold the paper up to the light to ensure a straight edge from the latest piece overlaps the line in between sections one and three.


Sew along the lines between sections one and three and then repeat what you did earlier: Fold the paper, trim the excess seam allowance and press the third piece in place.


Step 7


Use scissors or a rotary cutter to remove excess fabric and paper along the seam allowance on the pattern. If the seam allowance isn't built in, be sure to add one as you cut.

Step 8


Tear off or otherwise remove the foundation paper from the back of the block. If it's difficult to remove the paper, use a seam ripper or try spritzing it.


Paper Piecing Tips


Here are some top tips for creating immaculate paper pieced blocks:

  • Remove paper in reverse order, starting with the highest and finishing with the lowest.

  • Try to piece triangles on bias edges so the straight grain remains on the outer edge of each row.

  • If a mistake occurs on the first seam in a block, it's usually quicker to print a new foundation paper template and start fresh.

  • Try using a regular sewing foot for the foundation piecing and revert to a quarter-inch foot when piecing the block together.

  • It might be better to use dedicated scissors, needles and rotary blade cutters for paper pieced quilts, because the process blunts these items quicker than fabric alone.

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