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!

11 Comments (leave a comment)

  • You’ve inspired me! I haven’t done paper piecing in a while, and think maybe that’ll be my next quilt.

    Mary on January 28, 2013
  • I just started paper piecing earlier this year. My challenge is choosing the shape of fabric pieces I would use to make the shape on the foundation. Thanks for the free download. and the tips!

    Jean on January 28, 2013
  • I just paper-pieced a word to test a paper-pieced alphabet and I’m following along with Carol Doak’s block of the month. I love her papers, they make such a difference.

    Beth Strand on January 28, 2013
  • I made my first and only, so far, from Carol Doak’s book "50 Fabulous….but it needs a border and the putting together. The teacher added a border but no fabric to match. The hunt was on. It is all waiting for someone to come and finish it. On the list for 2013 of things to finish. Someday, Mariner’s Compass.

    —Mary on January 28, 2013
  • I have done some paper piecing and love it! I made a candy corn paper pieced quilt with 25 blocks in under 8 hours beveryonevwas perfect without trying to make those odd triangles pieces. I use my copier to print out duplicates. I test one using regular paper to make sure the size is right. On my printer, I usually have to adjust the print to 110% to get the size correct.

    —Judi Reiss on January 28, 2013
  • the first paper pieced quilt i made turned out just fine! time passed and i tried to work up another … ugh. problems right and left. i’ve read through many another tute, but i feel better about trying again after i read through this one. thanx a mil!

    ritainalaska on January 28, 2013
  • Paper Piecing and I have a Love/Hate relationship. I love the outcome, but hated the process. Many times, I’ve said "OOPS" when I’ve cut off the fabric and left the quarter inch seam or when it’s difficult to see the lines to make my seam. However, I’ve taught myself to take my pattern to a local office supply house that has a copy machine and make 2-5 copies at a time. Each time, the machine "pulls paper" through it, to make copies, it tends to distort the pattern, especially if you’re making several copies at a time. I take my patterns home, and using either a lightbox or window/sliding glass door on a sunny day, I draw the SOLID lines on the BACK of the copy and add a quarter inch —- DOTTED line to indicate where my fabric should be. This method, for me, is a lot easier to do than trying to hold everything up to the light. My shaky hands don’t always cooperate when I’m drawing, so hiring a teenager to draw the lines and do the perforation, saves me time and they make money.

    I no longer hold a cross in front of me when someone mentions paper piecing.

    Keep smiling,

    Lynnita Shipman on January 30, 2013
  • Hi…I’m trying to do a whirling star block…I bought a dolphin print bed liner and it had an interweave mesh attached to it…I took it apart to use the dolphins in an applique then thought better save the mesh…So for my whirling star block I drew the star on the mesh with gel ink..either way when I go to sew I can see both sides of the mess, since it’s more see through than paper, and thin enough that I can keep the mesh attached after sewing…Now I find myself looking for more meshing when I go fabric shopping. I’m going to a crafting and sewing show in March so I might find more there…Have a great day.

    —Darlene Krystal on January 30, 2013
  • I can’t get the PDF to look like English. It has various symbols. I do get this sometimes when I print PDFs and close them too soon, but never saw it when I opened a file before. Is there something I am doing wrong or could you email it to me?


    Hi Debby!
    Try clicking "save" instead of "open". Once you’ve saved the file, then go in and open it. If you are still having problems, please write to us at and we’ll try and help.

    ~Cornelia from Martingale

    —Debby on February 16, 2013
  • I am looking for a paper piecing pattern for a military material quilt. My husband is a Vietnam vet and has a reunion every year. They have an auction to fund the food and other needs for the next year. Last year my afghan brought in $230.00. I have collected several yards of assorted fabric with one being a medium print of the Army in action. Any good ideas? Thank you in advance.

    Nancy Montgomery on March 12, 2014
  • I paper piece almost everything. I have almost all of Carol Doak’s blocks and books. I have made several quilts from 50 Fab Stars and am currently working a quilt from Mariner’s Compass book. I love her classes that I have taken. It is so perfect to make the points just sew on the line and stop at the end. Carol TX

    —Carol Wright on June 3, 2016

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