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Paper Piecing: Step By Step

October 28, 2008

Basic Paper Piecing Tutorial

I receive a lot of emails about paper piecing each week. While many of them are in reference to my Harry Potter patterns, even more of the messages are from new and experienced quilters alike, with comments about the technique itself. Most commonly, I hear one of two things. Either that the person emailing had never quilted and saw a pattern they really wanted to try and just went for it, then was surprised that it wasn’t as hard as they thought OR that they have wanted to try it for years and it looks too hard to them.

I’m always thrilled to hear from quilters of all skill levels, and any time I can help in whatever small way, it’s my great pleasure to do so.

Paper piecing can be daunting to someone that either hasn’t tried it before or tried a technique that confused them. I myself tried three separate tutorials before it stuck. It was a combination of those different tutorials that helped me understand it better, and while I do have my own How To now, I still recommend checking out several tutorials and deciding on what techniques are right for yourself.

That said, this is how I paper piece. Each pattern is the same. They all have the same basic set up and the same basic rules will always apply. Even thought designers sometimes draw their patterns differently, the technique remains the same.

How To Paper Piece
© Jennifer Ofenstein
click on tutorial images to see larger versions

Supplies

  • pattern (Jar #3 used in tutorial or similar pattern – NOTE: Jar #3 was updated in 2014 and looks a little different than the photos, but the lines are all in the same place)
  • quilting fabric
  • neutral thread
  • paper scissors
  • fabric scissor OR Add-A-Quarter Ruler.
  • post card or thin straight edge
  • flat head pins
  • rotary cutter*
  • rotary ruler
  • wall paper seam roller (available at home improvement stores)

*note – I keep two rotary cutters, one for traditional piecing and one for trimming paper pieced blocks. The “just fabric” cutter gets the new blade, and when it begins to dull, I transfer it to the “paper” rotary cutter.

Not shown above:

  • cutting mat
  • dry iron
  • sewing machine
  • open toe foot
  • light source

Start by making a copy or print out of the pattern you want to make. Use lightweight paper for your patterns, as it tears off easier. Recycled printer paper works well, as does tracing paper and some drawing papers. There are also a number of commercially available products just for paper piecing, such as Carol Doak’s Foundation Piecing Paper.

Choose fabrics you think will compliment the pattern. Always use good quality 100% cotton quilting fabric.


Use paper scissors to trim outside the gray seam allowance of individual pieces of the pattern.


Starting with pattern piece “A,” use the post card as a straight edge, fold the pattern piece on the line between 1 and 2. This is your stitching line.



Repeat for the line between 1 and 3.


Place fabric 1 right side up on back of the paper opposite piece 1 (use a light source behind the pattern if you need it to make sure the fabric is big enough). Make sure you have a generous seam allowance (approximately 1/2″) all around.


Flip the pattern over


Place fabric 2 wrong side up on fabric 1. Make sure to slide both pieces of fabric 1/4” past the stitching line.


Using a small stitch (10-12 stitches per inch), start two stitches before the stitching line, stitch along the line and take two stitches after the end. By stitching slightly pass the line, it is less likely that the ends the stitches will pull out when the paper is removed.


Trim thread to paper.


Fold fabric two out. Gently dry press with an iron OR use the wall paper seam roller (shown) to press out the seam. Be careful not to pull or tug on the fabric.


Fold on the 1 > 3 line. Keep the paper folded then flip the pattern over. Trim a generous 1/4″ from piece 1 either with scissors or with your Add-A-Quarter Ruler.


Unfold the paper. Place fabric 3 wrong side up on fabric 1, matching the edges, which will be 1/4″ past the stitching line after being trimmed in the previous step.


Repeat stitching as for line 1 > 2.



Press as before.


Trim fabric around pattern piece, leaving a generous amount for squaring up later.


Press pattern piece “A” with a gentle up and down motion using a dry iron. Do not pull or tug the fabric.


Now for pattern piece “B.”


Using the postcard or straight edge, fold down the lines between section 1 > 2 and 1 > 3.


Trim a generous 1/4″ seam allowance (with scissors or Add-A-Quarter ruler) for piece 1 >2. Repeat for 1 > 3.


Just as for pattern piece “A,” place fabric 1 right side up on back of the paper opposite piece 1. Make sure you have a generous seam allowance (approximately 1/2″) all around.


Stitch on the line between piece 1 > 2 as in previous steps. Repeat for pieces 1 > 3.


Press out seams as before.


Trim fabric, leaving a generous seam allowance around the outside edges for squaring up later.


Press as before.


This is what you should have so far.


On your cutting mat and with your ruler, find the inside line at the top of  unit “B”, where the jar will be stitched to the lid.


Using the pattern’s seam allowance as a guide, trim. (note: Not all paper pieced patterns include seam allowance. All of my patterns do, but if you’re ever working on a pattern without seam allowance, you can add it using this simple tutorial.)


Find the corresponding seam on unit “A” and repeat the process.


Now the “A” pattern piece is ready to join to the “B” pattern piece.


Use a pin to find the outside corner. Push the pin through this point.


Find the corresponding point on the other pattern piece. Push the pin through.


Push the pin all the way through to line up the pattern pieces. This will assure that your pattern pieces align correctly when stitching.


Using the pin keep the pattern aligned, stitch along the seam line.


This is what you have now.


Remove the paper seam allowance that was just stitched on the “A” piece.


Repeat for the “B” piece.


Open the block and press as before.


Now you have this from the front.


And you have this from the back.


Time to square up the block! Find the blue line on one side (for more complicated patterns, find the straightest line).


Trim on the outside edge of the seam allowance.


Using the first cut, square up the block to 5 1/2″. If the pattern is a little off, go with the ruler’s measurement and not the seam allowance on the pattern.


Now you have this…all squared up! Leave the paper attached until the block is in it’s final location. That will keep the bias seams from stretching.


From the front.


Finished block, 5″ (shown without seam allowance). Use this block for quilts, pillows, bags, pot holders, wall hangings or anywhere else you’d use a square of fabric or a quilt block!

You can find lots of free patterns right here on Sewhooked!

If you give paper piecing a try, I’d love to see a photo. Email me or add it to the Friends of Sewhooked flickr group.

Happy quilting!

Add your Sewhooked-related photos to my flickr group and you might be featured in a future post!

Photobucket

this tutorial can also be found on paperpieced, cut out + keep and craftster

14 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2010 09:28

    I have copied the harry potter paper peiced patterns but when i went to put them together they are backwards and dont look like yours the directions of some points as in the capital H point down instead of up. i can turn it around but then the right side is on the left and visa versa. as you can see im new at all this. thanks for any help deb also love your videos etc on you tube look forward to them and they got me sewing again.

    • March 21, 2010 13:50

      Paper pieced patterns do come out mirror-imaged after they’re made and should look like the sample finished block. It might help to compare the pattern side by side with one of the finished blocks so you can visualize it.

      For example, you can look at the image of the “H” and then the pattern of the “H”.

      It can seem a little bit crazy when you first start working on them! Let me know if that helps!

      Jennifer

  2. ReaderWoman permalink
    December 14, 2011 12:51

    I am really discouraged on this – I am an experienced sewer – but this has me bumfuzzled. When copying the pattern do you need to enlarge it, or are the pieced already sized?

    • December 15, 2011 07:00

      Most paper pieced patterns will be actual size (all of mine are) when you print. You can always enlarge or decrease as you like.

      I hope you don’t get too discouraged…let me know if you need any pointers!

  3. Sally Rice permalink
    March 25, 2012 13:11

    I am eager to begin this project with my granddaughter, a true Harry Potter fan.

    • March 26, 2012 08:05

      How wonderful! I hope you and your granddaughter both enjoy the experience!

  4. August 16, 2012 21:27

    I have noticed that most patterns separate out the different sections (A, B, C, and soforth), but in a pattern like the gnomelette, they all come as one pattern with the sections separated by doted lines. Do you need to print multiple pages to do this or can you cut on the lines between the sections? It is hard to explain; I hope that makes some sense.

    • August 17, 2012 10:21

      I get just what you mean. You can cut right on the dotted line. You still need to add 1/4″ seam allowance. You can do that yourself, or, if you’re like me and really like for your patterns to have seam allowance, you can add it before piecing. I have an easy way to do that here.

      • August 17, 2012 11:56

        Thank you so much for your quick feedback! This is my very first paper piecing project, and I just happened to pick one that wasn’t laid out step by step for me. :) Usually if I don’t have a pattern with a seam allowance built in, I completely forget, but I was careful to remember and it turned out great. Well, passable for most, but great for me! :D

  5. September 13, 2012 00:23

    Hi love the site and will definitely using it to make my next quilt. I have made a few appliqué style quilts this year of Doctor Who and have had several requests for patterns. Seeing yours, do you have any tips on how to approach making one of an appliqué. Oh, you can see the quilt I made here. I’m not a master quilter, but I thought I would share my Doctor Who quilt creation I recently finished with you being that I love your work so much. I hope you like it as much as i do. https://www.etsy.com/listing/103952672/doctor-who-applique-patchwork-quilt. I’d love your feedback.

  6. March 2, 2013 06:20

    I’m sorry, I’m really trying to understand paper piecing, but it seems as if you waste a lot of material. Is this true or just my perception in how I’m reading this?

  7. May 9, 2013 09:21

    Thank you for sharing this! I am very excited that I found your site. I hope you don’t mind, but I shared this and you free pattern page with my quilting group on Facebook.

  8. Kath permalink
    November 21, 2013 16:11

    I have just completed my first paper piecing. I found if I draw the lines on the back of the print out using a light box or window, and use these as a fabric guide and only sew on the printed lines that the block come out the right way.

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