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So by now, y’all have probably noticed that I’m not perfect. Like, not even close. Don’t worry about hurting my feelings – I totally own this. But quilting, it’s one of those crafts that demands as much perfection as you can give it.
When I’m quilting, being imperfect can get pretty frustrating. If you’re like me, and getting perfect points while machine stitching fabric seems impossible, you should definitely try this magical little secret called paper piecing. Paper pieced quilt blocks are an easy (or easier) way to reach that near-perfect look we’re all going for.
What Are Paper Pieced Quilt Blocks?
I’m so glad you asked! Paper pieced quilt blocks are quilt blocks made by stitching your fabric directly onto paper. Some people call this foundation paper piecing, or FPP, and it’s especially useful when you’re making small blocks, intricate angles, or when you’re a quilting newbie (don’t we all feel like newbies sometimes?)
This post is all about how to sew your own gorgeous paper pieced quilt blocks. We’ll talk foundation papers, stitch length, needles, and tips. It’s going to be great. Get ready for near perfection.
Paper Pieced Quilt Blocks: The Paper Part
There are actually a ton of paper options when stitching paper pieced quilt blocks. Different people have different preferences, and different papers have different strengths and weaknesses.
- Carol Doak’s Foundation Paper: You guys, Carol Doak has got it going on. Her foundation paper is handy (though admittedly fancy and more expensive) because it’s not bulky, it absorbs ink really well, and you can print straight onto it. It holds up really well during stitching, but it’s still pretty easy to tear away afterwards. If you want to set yourself up for success, Carol Doak is your friend.
- Simple Foundations Translucent Vellum: This is also a fancier option than your regular freezer or tracing paper, but it has a higher cost for a reason. Vellum is really easy to see through, and also really easy to cut (and tear away.) If you’re worried about your paper piecing project going well, this will simplify the process a bit. Watch for some light ink smearing straight from the printer--vellum is a little less absorbent than Carol Doak’s creation.
- Plain Old Printer Paper: So, people do this. But unless you love making things super hard on yourself, just don’t. Literally every other paper option is better than copy or printer paper. Printer paper is just not made for this. It is, however, it does work well when printing out digital patterns. (shameless plug. SHOP NOW!) So keep it around.
- Freezer Paper: Some quilters are all about the freezer paper, specifically because you can go ahead and press the first piece right onto the pattern. It’s also considerably less expensive. But here’s the thing about freezer paper: it’s a stubborn little bugger. Unless you have a special set of skills, it can be hard to rip off the back once you’re finished.
After you have chosen your paper of choice, print or trace your pattern onto the foundation paper. This is where you might want to use printer paper – to print your pattern first before tracing it onto a better, more suitable foundation paper.
Paper piecing pattern printed? Perfect. Let’s get stitchin’.
Paper Pieced Quilt Blocks: The Stitchin’ Part
If you choose to perforate your foundation paper (which I highly recommend… it will make the ripping part WAY easier!) you can use a larger sewing machine needle, like a 90/14, and a shorter stitch length, around 15-18 stitches per inch, to make some perfect perforations.
After perforating (or not perforating), you’re ready to stitch! This is the fun part! Gather up your favorite rotary cutter, mat, foundation paper, a ruler, and maybe your favorite bluetooth headphones, and let’s get paper piecing! (Oh, I almost forgot – have some scotch tape on hand… just in case.)
Even though you used a 90/14 needle for perforation, make sure you swap it out for a super sharp 80/12 for the actual stitching. Smaller needles make it easier to sew with accuracy, and we’re going for accuracy here, people! As far as stitch length goes, shorter-than-normal is cool, but super short is going to make it really hard for you to remove the paper later. Go for about 16 stitches per inch.
At this point I could try to explain everything step by step, but I think this is one of those things that is easier to learn through watching a video. You probably already know Mary Fons of Quilty videos. She produced a two-part series that explains this process wonderfully. Check it out!
Paper Piecing Part 1
Paper Piecing Part 2
Paper Pieced Quilt Blocks: The Ripping Part
Before you get ripping, make sure you’re totally done piecing all of your blocks together. Even if your paper pieced quilt block is complete, hold off on your ripping until you have your blocks together. Trust me on this one.
Once you’re really really done, rip away! You’ll want to be gentle about it (quilts are people, too! Well… you know what I mean…) but if you used a lighter foundation paper, and specifically if you perforated first, ripping should be pretty easy.
Paper Pieced Quilt Blocks: The Part Where You Have a Perfect Quilt Block
Now, stand back, and admire the perfection of your hands! Okay, so paper piecing quilt blocks can be a hard method to master right away, and your first go at it may not be as perfect as I promised… but you’ll get there for sure! And I would love to see your finished project… perfect or not :)
Paper Piecing Pro: Lindsey Niell, Pen & Paper Patterns
My friend Lindsey was kind enough to let me interview her about foundation paper piecing. In addition to having phenomenal paper piecing skills, she is a designer and pattern writer with a couple paper piecing quilt patterns available for purchase.
Do you have any paper piecing tips?
A couple of things I’ve learned over the last few years when it comes to paper piecing:
- Don’t skimp on the fabric. When I’m cutting fabric for sections on a paper piecing pattern, I give myself A LOT of wiggle room. There aren’t many things more annoying than sewing on a piece of fabric for a section, being 1/8” too short and having to seam rip the tiny stitches out or, EVEN WORSE, having to start over.
- Take your time! Don’t rush through it. Double and triple check that your piece is positioned on the pattern correctly, that you have enough seam allowance, etc. Like I said, doing whatever you can to avoid ripping tiny stitches later is the goal!
- If you do have to remove your stitches and the paper piecing pattern separates on the sewing line, just use a piece of clear tape to repair the pattern. Be a little cautious when pressing that area later and make sure it’s a hot, dry iron. Steam will cause the paper to curl.
What are your favorite paper piecing notions/supplies?
A tool I find invaluable when paper piecing is the “Add-A-Quarter” ruler. The Add-A-Quarter ruler has a lip along the ¼” marking so when you go to trim the seam allowance the ruler grabs on to the folded edge of the paper piecing pattern, leaving exactly ¼” between it and the ruler. When you trim the fabric away, you have a precise ¼” seam allowance. I find that the ruler really helps to speed up the process too!
Did you teach yourself, take a class or were you lucky enough to have a friend teach you?
I am a self-taught paper piecer. I learned everything I know about paper piecing from YouTube, online tutorials and a lot of trial and error.
Is this something you think new quilters can handle?
Yes, definitely! I think paper piecing appears a lot more difficult than it actually is. There are many very beginner-friendly paper piecing patterns out there that will help you get the basics down and once you’re familiar with the basics, it’s really easy to move on to the more advanced patterns.
The first paper piecing pattern I tried that I think is great for beginners is Michael Ann’s Tiny Geese Keychain pattern. She has a great online tutorial for paper piecing as well!