Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Basic Paper Piecing Tutorial


I get a lot of comments about paper piecing so I thought I would do a little tutorial. There are many different methods for paper piecing but this is what works for me. I'm always open to tips or suggestions so share them if you have any! :)

I'm using a ring from the medallion/compass quilt I'm working on now as an example. The first thing you'll want to do is print the template you are going to use or copy it onto paper. I use either tracing paper or regular inexpensive computer paper. I have tried muslin, newsprint, and freezer paper as well but just regular old computer paper or tracing paper are my favorites.

The next thing I do is cut my fabric into strips into squares or other shapes to make piecing faster and easier. I know many paper piecing ladies who are very frugal and will spend a lot of time determining what size and shape to best precut their pieces to save fabric. I'm not so concerned with that as long as the shapes will give me plenty of seam allowance and I'm not wasting excessive amounts of fabric.


If you're not sure if your fabric is going to cover all the seams, you can hold your piece up to a sunny window or other light source to check. Sometimes if the pieces I'm working with are small and layered with dark fabrics I'll use a light box.

The next thing I do is match two of the squares of fabric I have cut and place them right sides together. I choose one edge to be my seam edge.


Here is the seam I will be sewing on the paper piecing template. Since I'm sewing directly on this line, I need to be sure that my seam edge is 1/4" past this line. I usually eyeball it.

I hold my fabric up to the light so that I can see the fabric aligned behind the seam line. This way I can be sure that I have allowed enough seam allowance.

This is definitely more than 1/4", but that's ok because I can visibly see that there is plenty of fabric around all edges, and I can trim back my seam after I've sewn.

Holding my fabric in place I sew the seam. Some people get nervous that the fabric will shift and like to pin it in place. You don't need to, it should stay and if you do see that it shifts a little you can move it back into place before you start stitching. This is one reason I don't mind giving myself a little extra fabric. I like relaxing carefree sewing. :)

I drop my stitch length to around 16-18 stitches per inch - that's around a 1 or 1.5 on my machine. If after sewing the paper is beginning to fall off, I just put a piece of scotch tape on it. Just don't forget about it when you go to iron! I use a press cloth or piece of scrap fabric to iron any area I secured with tape to keep it from gunking up my iron. These blocks are so big that I had to use a lot of tape just to put the pattern together before I even began sewing!

Now I've sewn, and I press my seam open. Just like with regular piecing, my seam is pressed to one side. If I'm doing lots of small intricate pieces I'll press the seams open to lessen bulk. I don't worry about pressing to the darker side when paper piecing, but if I'm working with a particularly light fabric and I can see my seam allowance underneath I'll again press open or force the seam over to the other side.


After I've sewn the paper is very easy to fold along the line. I fold the paper back so that I can trim it back...

Now I trim. If I know I'm not going to hand quilt, or it's just something small I will eyeball my 1/4 inch and just cut it by hand. I want to quilt this project heavily so to reduce bulk as much as possible I'm going to trim my seam to a perfect 1/4". I have already trimmed the seam here, and now I'm going to trim the edge that will be the seam allowance for the next seam.


The paper on this side is still stiff. To trim this side and set up for the next seam I will fold the paper back, and trim 1/4 an inch away from what will be my next seam edge. I know of some people who like to prefold on all of their lines before they begin sewing to make this folding process easier. I don't for two reasons. #1. It weakens the paper and my template falls apart much faster. #2. My sewing time is precious and when working with blocks like this, where there are more than 200 paper pieced seams per block, I don't want to spend it folding paper. So instead I line the printed seam line up with my ruler, flip it up, and over the ruler and crease the paper along the edge of the ruler with my finger/nail. It leaves enough of a crease I can fold the paper back and trim, but not enough to terrorize my paper or make me feel like I'm preparing for the origami championships.

It's a little scary at first trimming this edge, but it's helpful because now you've just set your seam edge for the next row of stitching, and once you sew you won't have to trim the seam back at all.

Once I've trimmed the unsewn seam edge I am all set up for my next piece. I just lay my next piece of fabric down right sides together, flip, and begin the process all over again.


I trim the curved edges as I go along. I leave them roughly 1/2" and trim them back to 1/4" later when I'm ready to sew them together into the block. I also leave the paper attached to the fabric until I'm ready to sew into a block. Once my entire block is pieced together I'll carefully peel the paper off, holding the stitches as I pull to keep them from weakening. Sometimes I'll even leave all the paper on until my entire quilt top is finished and ready to be quilted! :) You can use the edges of the paper block to ensure you are accurately piecing your blocks together.

So that's how I paper piece! It's got to be one of my favorite things to do. :)

**Edited To Add**  Here's some progress on this medallion quilt!  It's virtually all paper pieced but the very center star...


Slowly but surely I'm working on those borders...eventually it should look like this...


14 comments:

Zlaty said...

Great tutorial! Thank you! I haven;t done curved project like yours!

Have a great day!

Paula said...

I paper piece the same way. I love having my sewing machine in front of the window just so I can check placement on my paper piecing patterns!! Excellent tutorial!

Linda said...

You've done a great job on your tutorial. This is the way I do my pp also. Love your fabric colors.

Pat said...

I love paper-piecing, but I find people seem to fall into 2 categories with it...they either love it OR hate it...very few "in the middle". Your tutorial was very good!

Anne Ida said...

Great tutorial! If anyone need a guide to how to paper piece I'll definitely refere them here!

That said... I think I'll still stick to hand piece strange shapes/curves and such. Not that I mind the actual paper piecing, but I HATE picking out the paper afterwards! *lol*

clare's craftroom said...

You are so neat ! Great instructions even I could understand them with all those clear pictures , many thanks !

Myra said...

Great tute! I haven't paper pieced in a long time... I should start another sometime this year... 8-)
Thanks for the tute!
There! I think I am all caught up! 8-)

Simone de Klerk said...

Great tutorial! Your work is amazing! Do you know the quilt designer Jacqueline de Jonge? She has perfect designs for paper piecing like you do, with circles. I love your color choice too!

Tammy said...

Fabulous tutorial. Pictures help a lot.I will have to ty this. I am a nurse as well, and love to quilt,craft,garden etc.Thanks

Holly said...

Love the look of your site. Great tutorial. I need to try it now. LOL. 6 years and I still haven't tried paper piecing.

Pat said...

I paper piece the same way. Great tutorial.

UKMUMINUS said...

Great tutorial, thanks for telling me about this.

I am Just One Mom said...

Love Paper Piecing: it helps my left and right brain cope with each other while I am busy creating!

Love your tutorial and your trianglar circle block. Amazing.

Connie said...

Great tutorial! I'm working on some paper piecing and you have some wonderful tips!