Foundation paper piecing: as a technique, quilters either love it or loathe it. Sure, it’s more tedious than traditional piecing, can get a bit confusing at times, and involves ripping, ripping, and more ripping… but MAN, it produces some gorgeous results. Seams and points are perfect, and for those of us who are cutting challenged, it’s a huge relief to know that my finished result won’t be weird-looking because my pieces are cut too small or my machine’s seam allowance is a bit off.
I love teaching modern paper piecing at my local LQS, and there are many, many photo and video tutorials out there on the web. If you’re new to this technique, definitely try it! Watch the tutorials, and then pin/ this handy infographic to remind you of the steps:
But beyond the basic techniques, there are some details that can help to simplify and demystify paper piecing. (Note: opinions here are my own, and I feel entitled to have some as I am a paper-piecing fiend. You’re welcome to disagree with me in comments!)
Choosing the Right Paper
Essentially, you want paper that is printable, easy to sew through, strong enough to withstand folding, but also easy enough to rip off without leaving little bits of paper shrapnel everywhere. Easier said than done, right?
Carol Doak’s Foundation Paper is all of these things, and is a favorite in the piecing world. The paper is the perfect weight, and rips beautifully. Some printers can be a bit testy with the paper, and it’s also not at all transparent, which can annoy some quilters. It’s also a more expensive option than the others below (usually around $9-10 for a pack of 100), though many feel it’s worth the investment.
Freezer paper (yup, the kind from the grocery store) is another solid option, especially for larger paper-piecing designs. It won’t go through the printer (unless you’ve bought a special printable kind for quilters — again, $$$), but it folds and stitches nicely. The one waxy side will help to hold fabric in place after pressing, which is nice. Ripping, though, is a PAIN. The paper’s almost a bit too thick, and I’ve actually damaged some seams pulling it out.
Phone book paper is another favorite, for some reason. It’s easily rippable and free, so I definitely understand the reasoning. But the newsprint aspect of it terrifies me — I wouldn’t want to smudge lighter solids, especially on a wall hanging or something that I’m not planning to wash. Haven’t actually tried it — any recommendations?
Recycled cheapo printer paper is, honestly, what I use the most. It’s cheap, it’s effective, and it doesn’t require me to walk over to the printer to change it out. Laziness FTW! For decent-size blocks, the paper will rip out okay as long as you keep your stitch length short. Smaller blocks or more detailed piecing are definitely better served by Carol Doak’s, though.
To Perforate or Not to Perforate?
Some hardcore paper piecers like to run their patterns through the machine without any thread first, to perforate the paper and make it easier to rip. If you are one of these people, I applaud your fastidious commitment to the art, and humbly suggest that this website is not for you. (I kid. Sort of.) I used to do this, but later I discovered a much easier solution: while sewing your seams, reduce your stitch length to 1.5 or so. It easily perforates the paper while you’re sewing, and creates the same results in less time. Win!
Trim Seams Before or After Stitching?
I like to trim my seam allowance before I stitch, and I have good reason for that. After stitching, you have two pieces of fabric flopping around and it’s much easier to make a Fatal Cutting Error. This was a beginner’s mistake on my part, and I’ve seen my sewing students do it quite often too. If you trim your seam allowance on your newly pressed piece before adding and pinning another one, you’re much less likely to make that mistake. TRUST ME.
When to Rip Paper Out
This is another contentious issue, one that has historically foreshadowed the dissolution of guilds, friendships, and possibly even a Quilt Market booth or two (or so I’ve heard, but my lips are sealed). (Just kidding.) Once your paper-pieced block is done, you can technically rip off the paper. Go you!
But there might be a few instances where you want to wait. The first is if you’re dealing with delicate fabric or a block with lots of small pieces, especially around the edges. The other is if your block has a lot of points you’d like to match up nicely. Having the paper there to serve as a foundation is actually quite useful when you want to sew the blocks together; ripping it off after sewing the side seams helps to secure edges and line up points. But the downside is that the paper gets harder to rip the more it’s stitched down. It’s your call.
What secrets, tips, or advice do you have about paper piecing?
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