How To: Paper Piecing

Today I wanted to have a how to on paper piecing.  Paper piecing is great for perfect points, small details and other shapes/designs that could not be made with such precision without paper piecing.  It may be a little scary or foreign to start, but once you have the hang of it (there are 4 steps repeated over and over) you can do wonderful things!

There are many designers selling patterns that work only in paper piecing that have extremely intricate and multi-pieced work.  Check out anything by Judy Neimeyer, link is to her website, she has the advanced techniques but a few brave beginner items too.   Jacqueline deJonge, also her website link, is another power house of paper piecing and loves color.  A third that I love is Janeen van Niekerk, link is her blog, and is available on Craftsy.  She has free patterns monthly and is a little more realistic for both starters (think blocks not entire quilts) and those ready to tackle a really complex design.  I have been collecting hers for sometime and am ready to tackle them!  There are so many more out there than just these three but are a range of beginner to super advanced.

Onto the How To: Paper Piece of today!  I chose a small piece of a block called Evening on the Pond in the dusk colorway by Mads, find her blog about this design here.  This is actually block 2 of 12 blocks of the month. This is not a starter block but has a simple section to the block that measures less that 7″ tall.  We will only be making the section in this How To.

Concept, paper type & pattern:

Many paper piecing designs are small, odd-shaped blocks with 2-10 or more pieces that are then combined into sets and complete a larger block or entire quilt.  They are printed on paper; regular copy paper will do; there is thinner paper piecing paper on the market also.  I use regular copy paper. Once the pattern is printed you cut out the block just outside the lines, with paper scissors, no need to be precise at this stage.  Notice the colored boxes, that is the fabric to use for each section.  The letter and then number are important, just notice them for now.how to paper piece - block pattern

Stitch Length:

I use a stitch length of 1 1/2.  I usually use 2 1/2 for piecing but paper piecing requires a much smaller stitch length.  It helps when you remove the paper later.  It does make it a pain when you have made a mistake and need to unstitch.how to paper piece - stitch length

Attaching the fabric:

The pattern is labeled with numbers.  This is the order you use to attach the fabric, always use this order.  Starting with A1 for this pattern (not all patterns have numbers and letters, this is block A) I use a glue stick to attach the first piece of fabric to the pattern.  This helps to hold it in place and only sticks for long enough to sew the first few lines.

The right sides of the fabric face away from the back side of the pattern.  Or, the wrong side of the fabric is touching the non-printed side of the pattern.  The finished block will be behind the pattern.

I line up the first piece of fabric a little more than 1/4″ above the line of piece A1.how to paper piece - glue piece 1

Sewing the first row of stitches:

Then line up the next piece of fabric (A2) on the same line as A1, right sides together.  I have it peeking out a bit to be seen.how to paper piece - line up piece 2Sew directly on the line between A1 and A2 between the dotted lines.how to paper piece - sew on the line

Set the Seam:

Take it to the iron and set the seam from the paper side.how to paper piece - set the seam

Trim:

Fold the paper, printed sides together, and trim off the excess to make a 1/4″ seam.  I use an Add-A-Quarter ruler, the yellow ruler shown.  It has a lip that fits perfectly against the folded paper to help with a perfect 1/4″ cut.  Since the numbered order of the pattern is 1 at the large bottom of the triangle to 4 at the top point of the triangle, I worked my way up.how to paper piece - trim excess

Press:

I then flip the paper back and from the right side of the fabric I press the seam towards the higher numbered piece (2 in this case).  It may not be towards the darker fabric, or a way you are accustomed to but always press towards the higher numbered fabric.how to paper piece - press the seam

Attaching the next piece:

All of the rest of the steps will be repeated.  Line up the next piece of fabric (A3) a little above 1/4″ of the line you will be sewing on.  I often hold it up to the light to make sure it is lined up correctly, it looks greenish here.

how to paper piece - line up piece 3

Next steps:

Sew on the line, then set the seam, how to paper piece - set the seam 2trim excess, how to paper piece - trim excess 3press seam open, how to paper piece - press the seam 3repeat.

I do like to check the pattern from the front periodically to make sure all fabric pieces cover the pattern completely.  If not you will need to unpick the seam and attach again.  Ample fabric coverage of the pattern shown.how to paper piece - check work

Here are the photos of the repeat steps:

Final trim:

Once the block has all fabric attached then it is time to do a final trim of the block.  This must be done before attaching to another block.  I use a ruler and my rotary cutter to trim right on the dotted line from the printed pattern side.  Here is a before and after trim photo:how to paper piece - before and after final trim

Tips:

There are just a few steps to paper piecing but done repeatedly.  I get all of my 10,000 steps a day in when I paper piece since my sewing station, cutting table and ironing area are across the room from each other.

When there are multiple blocks to attach to each other the pattern will always give the order to attach them.  Usually something like: attach unit A to unit F, then the AF unit to the CH unit, AFCH unit will be joined with the DJKL unit – something like that.

Paper piecing with solid fabrics is great to start with!  Since there is no right or wrong side to most solid fabrics that takes an extra stress away of sewing them backwards.

Find a simple block and start sewing!  You may never know that you love something until you try it!  Tomorrow I will post the completed Evening in the Pond block.

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