Paper piecing quilts: tips + tutorial download

Posted by on January 28, 2013, in quilting & sewing

Mariner's Compass quilt(“Mariner’s Compass” quilt pattern (right) by Tricia Lund and Judy Pollard, $4.99.)

You’ve seen how accurate, how precise—how perfectly pointy!—paper-pieced quilts can be. Traditional patterns that were once thought of as intricate, complex, or even downright difficult (like Mariner’s Compass, right) become friendlier when you know how to paper piece. Whether you need to sew 4 or 104 pieces in a block, the idea behind all paper-pieced quilt patterns is the same: you simply sew on the lines.

Paper-piecing quilts has gotten a bit of a bad rap. Why? Well, you work with the mirror image of a block, so the method can seem awkward at first. But just like rotary cutting, strip piecing, or learning to sew half-square triangles and flying geese, practice makes perfect. So if you’ve ever heard those off-putting rumors and decided that paper piecing quilts wasn’t for you, think again—if you know how to sew two pieces of fabric together, you have the skills to easily tackle paper-pieced quilt patterns!

How to paper piece free downloadIf you haven’t downloaded our free eight-page primer on how to paper piece yet, you can do so here. In it, you’ll find a comprehensive quilting tutorial on the technique. The booklet includes sections on:

  • What is Paper Piecing?
  • What You Need to Get Started
  • Practice Block: Paper-Pieced Flower (includes pattern and materials list)
  • Step-by-Step Paper-Piecing Instructions
  • Fixing Mistakes (two very clever tricks here!)
  • Tips for Removing Paper


In the free booklet, you’ll also find the following smart trick for avoiding the hassle of copying multiple patterns. If you’ve got a stapler and a sewing machine, you can make multiple copies of a single pattern in a jiffy.

Punchy Tip: Making Multiple Copies of Paper-Piecing Patterns

Papers for Foundation PiecingHere’s a great timesaving trick if you need more than just one or two copies of your pattern. Use craft scissors to cut the foundation paper (see right) into however many squares you need in a size slightly larger than your block pattern. For example, if your block finishes at 6″ square, it will be 6½" square with the outer seam allowance, so cut squares 7″ or so. They don’t have to be accurate squares; rough cutting is fine.

Accurately trace the pattern onto one of the squares, or make one photocopy of the pattern. Stack five to seven squares together, with the traced or copied pattern facing up on top. Staple the stack together in about four places, stapling where there are no stitching lines. You need enough staples so the papers don’t shift, but not so many that the staples are difficult to remove.

Staple foundation papers together

Remove the thread from both the top and bobbin of your machine and replace your sharp new needle with an old one (preferably a size 12 to 16). Or, if you haven’t replaced your needle in a while, keep the old needle in the machine but plan on replacing it after you’ve made all your foundation patterns.

Place the stapled squares under the machine, lower the presser foot, and stitch exactly on all of the drawn lines (including the outer dashed line to mark the seam allowance). The needle punches holes through all the foundation papers. The line of holes acts as your stitching line and also makes it extra easy to tear away the paper when you’ve finished sewing your block.

When you’re done stitching, remove the staples and separate the foundation papers. Because the punched patterns won’t have markings on them, you may either want to write the piece numbers on each pattern so they’re easy to follow, or you can keep the original master pattern to follow as a guide—save that one for stitching on last. Use the hole lines as a guide when you sew the fabric to the foundation.

Stitch on the lines without thread

Clever, huh? This tip is included in our free Paper-Piecing booklet.

So, you’ve downloaded the how-to and you’re equipped with the guidance you need to paper piece. What’s next? Block patterns! This week, save 40% on books filled with block patterns just for paper piecing. Make multiples of one block for a beautiful traditional quilt, stitch a sampler-style quilt with several different blocks, or turn individual blocks into beautiful wall quilts or table toppers. Here’s a sampling of blocks and projects from this week’s sale books:

Blocks from Needles and Notions
Needles and Notions: Paper-Pieced Patterns with a Sewing Room Theme

Projects from A Year of Paper Piecing
A Year of Paper Piecing: 12 Sensational Seasonal Designs

Blocks from 300 Paper-Pieced Quilt Blocks
From 300 Paper-Pieced Quilt Blocks w/bonus CD

Blocks from 50 Fabulous Paper-Pieced Stars
50 Fabulous Paper-Pieced Stars w/bonus CD (there’s a block for each U.S. state!)

Paper pieced anything lately? Tell us about your latest project in the comments!

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