Paper Piecing Tutorial Part One

Hi, Friends!  Today I am going to share with you the steps I take to paper piece!  I love paper piecing (sometimes also called “foundation piecing”) because it is incredibly precise and opens up quilting to irregular shapes and forms.  I just released “The Tony Danza Mini Quilt” which features paper pieced blocks (and I have another paper pieced quilt pattern in the works), so I thought now was the time to post a tutorial.

First things first, gather your supplies:


1: A mini iron.  I love this one from Steamfast and I use it all the time, for all of my projects!  When paper piecing, I don’t use the steam, but I am grateful for the option when I’m doing traditional piecing

2: A piece of template plastic, cut into a strip, about 2″ by 8″.  The size isn’t really important, as long as it has a straight edge.  I’ve seen people use cardstock for this, but if you have access to template plastic, I would recommend using it! (A coworker/paper-piecing guru gave me mine, and now I wouldn’t go without it)

3: A small rotary cutter.

4: A glue stick.  I like the one pictured from Sewline and this one from Fons & Porter.  Both hold the fabric in place, but aren’t too tacky or sticky.

5: A small cutting mat.  I like having this little guy next to my machine so I don’t have to get up to trim my blocks.  There is A LOT of trimming in paper piecing!

6: Add-A-Quarter ruler.  This notion is a must have.  It has a little ledge on the bottom of the ruler that makes it easy to trim seam allowances to a perfect 1/4″.  I have the 12″ long ruler as well as the 6″ ruler in the picture.  I use the longer ruler for working with larger pieces, and I’m glad I have both, but I get the most use out of the little one.  I also have an Add-An-Eighth ruler (not pictured) for when I’m working with itty bitty pieces.

7: Creative Grids 1″x6″ ruler.  I use this for the final trim of my blocks.

8: (Not Pictured)  Carol Doak’s Foundation Paper.  It tears away from the fabric easier than regular printer paper, and can be used in your printer at home.

There is a lot of prep work before you actually get to sew, but it is all worth it!  If you have a digital pattern, you will need to print out your foundations and templates.  Be sure that your printer is set to “Actual Size” and/or “No Scaling”  Even when I’m sure I have my printer set up right, I still like to measure my blocks or pieces to make sure everything prints out as it should.  Print the foundations on foundation paper, and the templates on regular printer paper or cardstock.  (You will sew the fabric onto the foundation papers.  The templates are guides for cutting out your fabric.  Not all patterns come with templates.  If you want to make your own, you can.  Just trace around each piece in the pattern and add at least 3/8″ all the way around the piece.  Use that to cut out your fabric.  I like to use templates because it gives me assurance that the piece I cut will be the correct size and it makes placement a lot easier.)

Cut out as many foundations as the pattern requires.  For my patterns, place the templates right side up on the right side of the fabric, as pictured below.  Not all patterns are this way, so be sure to read the pattern instructions.  Cut out the fabric pieces, your pattern instructions should tell you how many of each template you will need.

prep step.jpg

Next, using a glue stick, glue the first piece to the back of the foundation paper, with just a little smidge of glue.  Place the fabric so that is right side up on the unprinted side of the foundation paper (the middle picture). Make sure that the fabric extends at least 1/4″ beyond all of the solid lines for piece 1, and at least meets the outer, dashed line (the right picture).

step 1

Place the template plastic on the line between piece 1 and piece 2 (left picture).  Fold the foundation paper back along that line, using the template plastic to keep the fold crisp (middle picture).  Place the Add-A-Quarter ruler on the fabric so that the little ledge butts up to the folded paper and trim away the excess, leaving a 1/4″ seam allowance (right picture).  (It’s almost time to sew!)

step 2

With the foundation paper still folded back, position piece 2 right sides together with the previous piece.  Make sure that the piece extends at least 1/4″ beyond the solid lines for piece 2 (I’ve outlined it in pink in the left picture).  You may want to pin here, but I usually just carefully unfold my foundation paper.  Stitch on the line between piece 1 and piece 2, starting a few stitches before the solid line and ending a few stitches after it (middle pic).  Be sure to shorten the stitch length for paper piecing.  The shorter stitches perforate the paper more, making it easier to rip away later.

step 3

Fold the foundation paper back on the seam that was just sewn.  Using the Add-A-Quarter Ruler, trim piece 2 to leave a 1/4″ seam allowance.  Unfold the paper and press piece 2 away from the previous piece.  (Be sure to use a dry iron.  The steam can distort the paper).

step 4.jpg

Just repeat those steps for the remaining pieces on the block, adding them in numerical order.  Using the template plastic, fold back on the line between the piece just attached and the next piece (left pic).  Trim, leaving a 1/4″ seam allowance (middle pic).  With foundation paper still folded back, place next piece, right sides together with previous piece, making sure there is at least 1/4″ all the way around the solid lines of the piece you’re adding.  It can be helpful to hold it up to a light, so that the lines and the fabric can be seen more clearly (right pic).

step 5.jpg

Unfold the paper and sew on the line between the previous piece and the new piece.  Fold back on the seam and trim away the new piece, leaving 1/4″ seam allowance (left pic).  Unfold paper and press the the new piece away from the previous one (middle).  Continue until all of the pieces have been added to the foundation (right).

With each new piece, repeat the “mantra” below until all the pieces have been added to the foundation.  To begin a new foundation, glue the first piece in place, then repeat the mantra.

The mantra to repeat is:

  • Fold
  • Trim
  • Place
  • Sew
  • Trim*
  • Press

*if you carefully cut your pieces, you may not need to trim a second time.

step 6

The last step is to trim the completed block.  To do this, I don’t use the Add-A-Quarter ruler because I don’t really have anything for that ledge to rest against, and the ruler can easily slip.  Using a small ruler, line up the 1/4″ marking with the solid line on the foundation and trim away the excess fabric on all four sides (left). Doing it this way assures you have a perfect 1/4″ seam allowance and makes sewing the blocks together easier in the next step.

OK! I know that seems like a lot of steps, but once you get started, you’ll fall into a rhythm and it just gets easier and more fun!  Come back for Part Two and I will show you how to sew all the blocks together.  I will also be sharing with you some of the things I learned the hard way, so you don’t have to!  See you then!  And please feel free to let me know if you have any questions.  Happy Paper Piecing!

For a printable pdf file that contains instructions from both Part One and Part Two, click here.


3 thoughts on “Paper Piecing Tutorial Part One

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