Foundation paper piecing tutorial
When I first heard about foundation paper piecing from my friend and saw the quilt she made I thought that paper piecing is complicated and time-consuming. How to sew on paper? What is it?
But I was intrigued for a while and in the end decided to try this method. And I am glad I did! It’s not complicated at all, it’s actually quite simple and allows to make blocks with the greatest accuracy.
The idea of foundation paper piecing is that you cover a paper shape with fabric, sew the pieces (fabric and paper) together, then remove the paper while the fabric block stays intact.
Paper piecing designs look very beautiful and interesting and it’s also a great way to get rid of scraps of your favorite fabrics. It also significantly speeds up the process of preparing blocks for quilts.
So, I made this reversible placemat (one side is for Thanksgiving, and another side is for Christmas) using foundation paper piecing (for the first time) and here is a tutorial so you can easily make it too.
Note: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. This means I will receive a commission if you order a product through one of my links. I only recommend products I believe in and use myself.
Paper piecing supplies – what you’ll need
You don’t need any specific skills. Only a few pieces of fabric, a good pattern and desire to create something special. Plus some inexpensive standard quilting tools you probably already have.
Fabric in 9 colors (or actually as many varieties as you wish)
Paper piecing patterns
New sewing machine needle
Good quality thread (matching colors)
Sewing machine (of course)
I would like to add here that it’s better to use pieces of fabric in contrast colors to highlight a design.
Compare different mini irons here
Dritz 29500 Petite Press Portable Mini Iron
- Ideal for crafting, quilting and sewing
- Ergonomic handle and light weight design
- Four temperature settings
- Heats and holds temperature in minutes
Clover Mini Iron II -The Adapter (9100)
- Expand your creativity with the compact, lightweight iron
- Features multiple temperature settings and easy glide sole plate
- Mini Iron includes small tip, screwdriver and iron stand
- The Item Package Weight of the Product is: 1.0 lb
Clover MCI-900 Mini Iron
1 used from $21.00
- Lightweight and easy to control iron for quilters and seamstresses
- Mini shaped head for tight spots, quick bias techniques and appliques
- Mini iron includes stand with rubber sole feet and metal holder
Making foundation piecing patterns
I could buy some nice patterns for my poper pieced project (there are also plenty of free paper piecing patterns) but I decided to create 2 simple foundation piecing patterns myself.
Why? Because I wanted it to be simple (remember, it’s my first paper piecing project), I wanted it to be exactly the size I need for my placemat (placemats have standard sizes after all), and it was fun to make!
I drew 2 squares 6 x 6 inches and added ¼ inch seam allowances. After that I just drew some lines to make my designs.
If you are going to draw a design for paper piecing yourself be sure to number every piece, as shown in the images below. We do this in order not to confuse the stitching sequence of the pieces.
Or you can download these patterns for free from my blog.
Preparing foundation paper for quilting
I was surprised to find out that I can use many types of paper for my paper piecing project. Although now there are new materials that are used instead of paper and they don’t even have to be torn off later (like embroidery stabilizers).
I decided to go with vellum paper and the main reason for this is that I can easily see the pattern on both sides of this paper which is very helpful.
Try to use the thinnest paper, then it’s easier to tear it off from stitched canvas.
To sew a placemat, you need to prepare 4+4 identical blocks, which will then be sewn together.
Print the template (can be downloaded here) in 5 copies for each block: 4 – for direct stitching and one – for cutting fabrics.
Buy vellum paper sheets for paper piecing
Strathmore 59-854 Laser Vellum Inkjet Paper, 8.5"x11", 50 Sheets
$12.16 in stock
- Premium translucent 29lb paper
- Designed for high quality laser printing
- 50 sheets per package
- Measures 8.5x11 inches
100 Sheets Pack Vellum Paper Value Pack - White Translucent Sketching and Tracing Paper - 8.5 x 11 Inches - Traditional Comic Drawing Animation Paper - 100 Pieces
$14.99 in stock
- TRANSLUCENT VELLUM SHEETS: Includes 100 sheets of translucent vellum paper for arts and crafts.
- VERSATILE: Great for creative invitations, card insert tissue, photo overlays, scrapbooking and much more.
- PRINTER FRIENDLY: Smooth surface prints on laser and inkjet printer machines.
- HIGH QUALITY: These 93 GSM vellum parchment are specially manufactured for strength, transparency, and printing quality.
- DIMENSIONS: Each sheet measures 8.5 x 11 inches.
Vellum Paper, Cridoz 50 Sheets Vellum Transparent Paper 8.5 x 11 Inches Translucent Clear Paper for Printing Sketching Tracing Drawing Animation
- Great Value of Translucent Vellum Paper: Cridoz vellum papers come with 50 sheets vellum. Great for wedding invitations, party invitations card insert tissue, table numbers cards, photo overlays, scrapbooking and much more
- Premium Quality Transparent Paper: Each vellum paper measures 8.5 x 11 inches. These 93 GSM vellum papers are manufactured with features of high strength, transparency, and printing quality
- Good for Printing: This vellum has smooth surface for printing on laser or inkjet printer machines and transfers images nicely and clearly
- Work Great: These transparent papers are versatile and ideal for sketching, tracing, drawing, animation, making invitations and other creations
I would add here that there is a way to make necessary copies without a printer (it’s especially helpful if you use rolls of paper for piecing and not already cut sheets) and facilitate your work. Simply stitch a few sheets of paper on a sewing machine without threading a needle along the lines of the design and get the required number of copies of the blocks.
For this procedure, take a not very sharp old needle. Then replace it when you sew the fabric, because the needle will quickly become dull from sewing on paper and begin to “catch” the fabric.
Cut the fabric
Cut one of the copies for each block along the marked lines.
I read that you can use just odd pieces of fabric for your paper piecing project and freehand cut fabric roughly larger than your paper pieces. But I found out that I save a lot of fabric and make sewing easier if I pre-cut pieces using my templates with added seam allowances.
Cut the required number of shapes from fabric (with seam allowances) according to the pattern (use the 5th printed sheet). I just make seam allowances half-inch not ¼ inch. It’s really easy and fast to do with my quilting ruler and a rotary cutter. I just need to be sure that my fabric shapes are big enough to fit around paper pieces.
You can stack up a few pieces of fabric and cut several pieces at once – its faster this way.
After that I organize everything for easy sewing placing all the parts into groups corresponding to each number.
Buy quilting rulers and a rotary cutter here
Omnigrid Non-Slip quilter's Ruler, 6" x 24", Original Version
$18.50 in stock
- Omnigrip Non-Slip Quilter's Ruler is made especially for quilting, sewing, and crafting projects
- Made with a unique numbering and angle system that is sure to help with your projects
- A clear background and neon lines make this ruler easy-to-use
- Measures 6 by 24 inches
Fiskars 3x18 Inch Acrylic Ruler (187640-1001)
- Highlighted seam allowance makes it easy to cut fabric strips up to 3 inch wide directly from the bolt
- Broken grid lines and easy-to-read measurements make measuring quick and accurate
- 30-, 45- and 60-degree line indicators make it easy to cut at perfect angles
- Optional non-slip vinyl feet can be added or removed without damaging the ruler
- Lifetime warranty
Fiskars 12-87577097J Acrylic Ruler, 6x24 Inch
$14.14 in stock
- Ideal for cutting fabric strips or squares directly from the bolt
- 30-, 45- and 60-degree line indicators make it easy to cut at perfect angles
- Made of 3 mm-thick acrylic for lasting durability
- Lifetime warranty
OLFA RTY-2/C 45mm Splash Rotary Cutter
$14.99 in stock
- Vibrant aqua handle color is as expressive as the person using it
- Contoured handle allows for comfortable cutting
- Integrated grooves at head of cutter help prevent finger slippage
- Blade cover for extra safety
- Includes and fits OLFA 45mm rotary blades
By the way, you may also like my other tutorials if you are interested in sewing.
If you prefer to watch the tutorial go to my YouTube channel.
Paper piecing instructions
Now I proceed to the sewing process itself.
Make the stitch length very small, like 1.5 mm, so you can tear off the paper easier later on.
Change the regular presser foot to the open toe presser foot – it’s much easier to stitch along the lines with this foot.
Put the fabric piece number 1 on the wrong side of the paper template right side up (I mean wrong side to the paper). Note that the edges of the piece go beyond the lines on the paper pattern – this will actually be an allowance for the seam.
Well, I did that but the piece didn’t stay, it moved easily, so I decided to use fabric glue stick – just a little to fix the piece on paper. And it worked MAGIC! The correct placement of the first piece is very important.
Then put the second piece right side together with the first and align it around the edge.
I used vellum paper so I could easily see all the lines and numbers through it and adjust the pieces correctly.
Next – stitch on the line which you see on the right side of the paper block. Don’t sew exactly from point to point – make the stitch a little longer going ¼ “ beyond each point.
Now fold the block along the first stitching line (already perforated by a needle) and cut off the excess seam allowances making them ¼ inch with a quilting ruler.
Flip the piece carefully and press over the stitching line.
I used my mini-iron and it was perfect. I heard that you can do it with a big iron, but then the vellum paper may shrink and your pattern will be distorted.
Similar to sewing the first two parts, add the part after part according to the pattern.
Step by step, the block takes shape. Sew all the other cut-out parts of the block, observing the numbering, keeping everything in order.
Finishing paper pieced quilt blocks
Once all the pieces are in place, adjust the edges of the block. Work around the perimeter to cut off all the excess fabric but leave ¼ “seam allowances all around.
But don’t cut the paper yet – we will need it to sew the blocks together.
Make three additional blocks for each pattern in exactly the same way.
Next begin to assemble the blocks creating a design and sew all the blocks.
To begin with, pin the two blocks right sides together. The edges of the paper will serve as a good helper, so the seams will be more even and neat.
Sew very close to the paper. Repeat with the other two blocks.
Put the two large pieces together.
and … and what else? Ahhh, now we need to remember to remove the paper from the inside of our blocks. Just gently tear it off at the seams, that’s all.
If you want to sew something in the patchwork style, try this way of sewing on paper, you will be pleasantly surprised by the result, because it will be excellent! I don’t think I have ever had this accuracy in aligning 7 seams at once exactly in the center.
I think I like the clean finish on the front and back.
Did you find this tutorial helpful? If so, save this pin (see below) on your sewing board so you can come to this tutorial later when you are going to try paper piecing and follow me on Pinterest for more tips, tutorials, and inspiration!
Ready to take the next step in your sewing journey? Check out more step-by-step tutorials from my blog and don’t forget to share !