Learn how to paper piece for free

Posted by on June 12, 2012, in quilting & sewing, ,

"Starburst" by Judy Pollard

There are lots of things to love about working at Martingale, one of them being the chance to meet fantastic quilt designers and learn from expert teachers. Who taught me how to piece a bias square? Nancy J. Martin. Who showed me how to save time by rotary cutting through multiple layers of fabric? Designer of super-quick quilts Laurie Bevan. Who showed me how to paper piece? Carol Doak, the queen of paper piecing herself.

If you love to quilt, foundation piecing is an invaluable tool to have at your disposal. It’s a magic key that opens the door to precision piecing. I mean, look at the gorgeously perfect points in Judy Pollard’s “Starburst” quilt (above left) and Sue Hunt’s “Snowflakes” pillow and quilt (below right). Seeing the beautiful results you can achieve with paper piecing makes me eager to haul out my stash of foundation paper and get stitching.

Now, it’s been quite a few years since I received that paper-piecing lesson from Carol, and it’s time for a brush-up. Maybe you need one too? Since we can’t deliver Carol Doak (or Nancy Mahoney or Lois Fletcher) to your sewing room as needed—much as we’d like to (wouldn’t THAT be fun!)—Robin Strobel has graciously stepped in and created a handy set of paper-foundation piecing instructions you can download for free and reference as needed. This latest PDF is part of our How to Quilt series, an ever-growing collection of all kinds of handy quiltmaking info.

For those of you who’ve never tried foundation piecing, here’s how Robin explains it: “The basic idea of paper-foundation piecing involves printing or tracing your block pattern onto a piece of easy-to-tear paper. Then you sew fabric pieces to the wrong side of the paper, using the lines on the right side of the paper for guidance. Since you’re sewing on the line and using a firm foundation for stability, the sewing can be precise and accurate. When all the sewing is complete, you tear away the paper and your beautiful block remains.”

How to paper piece a flower-block unit How to paper piece a flower-block unit

Speaking of beautiful blocks, Robin’s instructions include a free practice project for you to try, a strikingly simple paper-pieced Flower block (shown above). It comes complete with materials list, illustrated step-by-step instructions, and a printable foundation pattern. “If you’re the type of person who likes to end up with a finished project,” Robin advises, “make four Flower blocks and set them together to make a pretty star pillow or small wall hanging.”

from Paper-Pieced Mini Quilts

Now that I’ve got Robin’s handy instructions for paper-piecing quilts, I’m thinking I might start with something small, like this vibrant mini-quilt (left) from Wendy Vosters. Or, being the mother of two small boys, I’m tempted to commemorate our trips to the zoo with these adorable penguins and their buddy, Mr. Puffin (below) by Margaret Rolfe.

Equally fun would be some of Margaret’s paper-pieced chickens to remind us of October visits to a local farm, where we choose pumpkins, climb hay bales, and feed the animals.

Perhaps it’s time to indulge in a little something just for me? I’m liking this cheery Pennsylvania Star designed by my coworker Karen Soltys.

Pennsylvania Star quiltWhat about you? Are you new to paper piecing, or have you already worked your way through a stack of paper-pieced quilt patterns? Tell us what you love about paper piecing in the comments!

If you’re looking for your next project, you might find it in this gallery of charming paper-pieced quilts.

Diamond Head from Supersize Em

“Diamond Head” from Supersize ’Em!

Town House Table Runner from Down in the Valley

“Town House Table Runner” from Down in the Valley

Dutch Treat from Kaleidoscope Paper Piecing

“Dutch Treat” from Kaleidoscope Paper Piecing

Winter Cabin Table Topper from The Quilter's Home: Winter

“Winter Cabin Table Topper” from The Quilter’s Home: Winter

Out on a Limb from The Quilters Home--Spring

“Out on a Limb” from The Quilter’s Home: Spring

Chickadees in the Window from The Quilters Home--Fall

“Chickadees in the Window” from The Quilter’s Home: Fall

Haunted Castle from Spellbinding Quilts

“Haunted Castle” from Spellbinding Quilts

Stand up for the Red, White, and Blue from Stash Magic

“Stand up for the Red, White, and Blue” from Stash Magic

Tulip Basket from A Year of Paper Piecing

“Tulip Basket” from A Year of Paper Piecing

Sailing Fun from A Year of Paper Piecing

“Sailing Fun” from A Year of Paper Piecing

20 Comments (leave a comment)

  • I love that it is just a little challenging and the results are spectacular. I like to keep learning something new, so I took a class with Delores Knight two weeks ago. I had tried to learn on my own and with youtube videos but being with Delores made it so EASY!

    Michelle Harrison on June 12, 2012
  • I’m new to paper-piecing. I started with some Christmas cards I made last year. I love it! Paper piecing is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. You can play with the pieces and see how those pieces all fit!

    Jean F. on June 12, 2012
  • The PDF is a little confusing, as the drawings show two different versions of the flower squares. The pattern itself, and most of the drawings show the seam connecting pieces 1 and 3 extending to the edge of the square, while the seam connecting pieces 1 and 2 ends at piece 3. The result is all the seams radiating to the edge follow a North to East to South to West flow, and pieces 2 and 3 are both wide.

    The drawings of the flower square above the materials list and and in step 10, as well as the drawing of the Twisted Star block hasve the seam connecting pieces 1 and 2 extending to the edge of the square, resulting in piece 2 being very wide and piece 3 being a very narrow strip, with the seam connecting them radiating contrary to the others, running East to North, etc. Hope my explanation makes sense.

    —KittenWithAWhiplash on June 12, 2012
  • Kitten with a Whiplash, good eye! What I think you’re seeing is a glitch in one of our illustration files. In step 7 on page 6, the art showed stitching lines when I viewed it onscreen—but the stitching disappeared when I printed the PDF. We’ve fixed the glitch and uploaded a new version of the PDF. If the change hasn’t clarified things, please let us know!

    —Tina on June 12, 2012
  • Since January I’ve been taking monthly paper-piecing classes at our local quilt store. It helps to be surrounded by fellow PP stitchers willing to share their knowledge. I hope someday paper-piecing becomes second nature to me.

    —Joan Rodriguez on June 12, 2012
  • Love love love paper piecing and love Carol Doak’s method. I belong to her Yahoo group and Carol shares many new patterns with us and keeps us challenged. I love that the points come out so beautifully and there are so many variations of blocks to play with.

    —Val U on June 12, 2012
  • I am new to paper piecing, what I have done I really like and enjoy doing the paper piecing. I would love to learn more about the subject so I could be more confident in doing it.

    —Betty on June 12, 2012
  • Everything is so precise and crisp. It is a challenge to think upside down and backwards, but, ah–the rewards! I think it would be accurate to say I’ve done a modest amount of paper piecing, but it is worth the trouble.

    PS. Love image 4 in the slide show. Dutch Treat. Very striking.

    —Claudia on June 12, 2012
  • Funny this topic should come up today…my girlfriend and I were just discussing this morning that I am paper piecing impaired. I have taken two classes on it and I still cannot figure it out. I love paper pieced blocks and would LOVE to make a quilt, but it is so foreign to me…I hope to take a class again someday as I would love to make a Mariner’s Star quilt. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

    Kristen on June 12, 2012
  • I took a class from Carol Doak several years ago. WOW what an experience. I feel that I could pp anything. She is great, but I’m sure the other gals are also. Sharp points are the exciting thing about pp.

    —nancy seitz on June 12, 2012
  • I love paper piecing and have done quite a bit of it. Mostly have learned from Carol D. It is great for getting those perfect points

    —venita on June 12, 2012
  • I love to paper piece, because everything is so precise, and paper piecing allows me to make blocks I could not make any other way. If I can paper piece a block, I will always do it, it is my preferred method of piecing. The only thing I don’t love is taking out the paper afterwards, but that is worth it when you see the marvelous results.

    —Nancy on June 12, 2012
  • I have 4 Carol Doak books and was lucky to take a class from her several years ago in Bend, Oregon. The bird and tree quilts are so cute and I love the red, white and blue quilt. They make me want to start a new paper piecing project!

    —Karen M on June 12, 2012
  • I have just recently discovered the world of FPP and have fallen in love with the process. I have made a couple of wall hangings and am getting ready to tackle my first full sized quilt!

    Stray Stitches (Linda G) on June 13, 2012
  • My first pp project was a snowman kit and I loved it. I’d really love to do more.

    DianeH on June 13, 2012
  • As a Mom to 2 young boys, thanks for bringing Margaret Rolfe’s book to my attention. My boys would love those animals and I would love to make a few to use to applique on a shirt. I’ve done a few PP things pre-kids, but it’s been a while so I need to practice again.

    —Ginger on June 13, 2012
  • I have been wanting to learn paper piecing. Thank you so much for the article & download. You make it sound really easy. I’m going to give it a try!

    —Donna F on June 13, 2012
  • Thank you for getting people excited about paper piecing! It is such a wonderful technique and I am always trying to get more quilters involved.

    Robin Koehler on June 14, 2012
  • I LOVE foundation paper piecing! Discovered it 3 years ago and have been enjoying it and teaching it ever since. I teach teens and preteens how to paper piece.

    I hope you don’t mind me sharing…. I created a free you tube video to teach foundation paper piecing – http://youtu.be/MvNV2zIdjRA

    Kelly on August 1, 2012
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    Cierra on August 22, 2014

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