Paper Piecing: Step By Step
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
- 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.
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.
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!
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