Quilt ADD in therapy

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Colorado, United States
Other than my family, the passion of my life is quilting. An eclectic, I love a wide variety of styles and techniques encompassing both machine and hand work. I am a longarm quilter who can work for you. I enjoy any style, from pantographs to all-over to full custom, ranging from traditional to modern. I love bringing vintage tops to life and am willing to work with a challenging quilt top. Instagram: lyncc_quilts

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Paper-Piecing (foundation) Tutorial, courtesy of BOM 5, Glacier Star

I finally got to sew again, and the next BOM up was a lot of fun - involving a paper-piece quilt from Judy Niemeyer.

I have to say, I *despised* paper foundation piecing when I first tried it a few years ago. It was such a pain to try placing that next fabric piece on the backside of the pattern in a way that would not leave gaps once the stuff was all sewn and flipped, and then you had these irritating huge seams to trim away.
Well, I saw a Niemeyer quilt I just HAD to make (that's it, over on the left), so I decided to grit my teeth regarding the method and get it done. Got the pattern and the fabric, took one look at the directions, and said, "Wow!! Now why couldn't I ever think of such an approach?!" That pattern, as well as a tutorial she has posted on her Web site, teaches a very simple technique that makes paper piecing so much easier!

As I did this month's portion, I wanted to share this process so that others who love the results of paper piecing but have been too frustrated with the process could also break through to the other side. I wish I'd thought of doing this at the very start, so my pictures would show the whole story in pure sequence. But you'll get a good idea, and I'll share some personal tips on tools and concepts.

Step 1: Prep the paper

You start with your paper pattern. I had already mass-cut the fabric pieces using the cutting template that came with it. Locate the position of the first piece and swipe a glue stick on the BACKSIDE of that area. (Any water-soluble glue stick will work, but I love the narrow Sewline sticks.)

Then place your first fabric piece onto the glue, RIGHT SIDE UP, making sure you've covered the entire first area plus its seam allowances.

Step 2: Layer for a Sewing Line

Flip the paper back over and locate the first sewing line (you'll see I'm on the third seam, but the process remains the same). Place a folding tool right on the sewing line.

Tool tip:As you can see, I did not purchase quilting template plastic as recommended. I LOVE free tools, and those annoying oversized advertisement post cards are good for sooo many things around the house. Use one of those for this task! They're perfect. 

Fold the paper down. . .

[If this is not the very first seam, you'll need to rip the paper in the last seam allowance area to allow the paper to fold on the seam. More on that later.]

. . .Then place a ruler over the edge so you can trim the excess off at the 1/4" seam allowance.

Whatever you do, DON'T FORGET THE RULER~!!  Otherwise, you cut off the seam allowance and then you have to pick the affected pieces off, cut new ones, and start all those sections over again. Major pain. I know from experience!

Another tool tip: The Add-A-Quarter ruler that is marketed is, indeed, very nice for this job. However, if you need your spending money for other items, go ahead and use any quilting ruler - just be careful because they'll SLIDE on that paper if they don't have no-skid spots attached!

Once you've trimmed off the overhang, pick up the folded paper with fabric attached and place that on top of the next piece of fabric, which is laying right side up on the cutting mat.

Two things to watch:

1) Make sure the fabric will cover the next area AND its seam allowances. I can see through the paper well enough to lift the unit to compare to the next fabric's location, but if you're not confident about that you can always sketch in the lines on the back side to see what's what. You get good at this step pretty quickly since the folded-over paper shows where the piece is needed.

2) Line the sewing edge up the tiniest bit shy of the edge of the next fabric, especially if you're laying a darker fabric over a lighter fabric. This is so you don't get dark lines showing through on the front side of your quilt.

When you have everything lined up, lift the paper back open and place a couple of pins parallel to your sewing line to secure the bottom fabric. Some people can just hold it and sew them, but I still can't. I get too much slippage.

Tool tip: Yes! Those flat-head flower pins are terrific!! I love them OODLES more than round-head pins for this job. Worth the money. Get the thinner ones, the IBC brand with flexible .55mm shafts and 3/8" heads. Supposed to be handy for lace work and knitting as well.

Step 3: Sew your lines and press

I prep several units at a time so I can chain stitch them.  Just pull the threads out enough between units to allow the next one to lay flat.

Make sure the leading end of the bottom fabric is not folded under itself. I've had to pick out more than one seam end because of this!

At your machine, sew along the entire solid line (across the next seam allowances - marked on my patterns with a dotted line). You'll actually want the stitches to start and end a stitch's worth beyond either end of the stitching line.

  • Use a medium length stitch. Too long, and it will be a pain to tear your papers off when it's all put together. Too short, and your seams pucker and the paper falls apart prematurely. This varies so much from machine to machine, sorry I can't tell you what setting to use. 
  • Use the smallest needle you can. A 70 or 75 with a thin thread (50 weight) is marvelous. And use SHARPS not universals, and certainly not ball tips.
  • Some people find they need to tighten their tension a little bit. On my machine, this is not necessary.
 When you are ready to clip your units apart from each other, it is not necessary to trim off the pesky tails. . .

. . . because  when you trim off the next overhang, you will cut those tails right off the unit - especially if you went the extra stitch past the seam allowance area!

[Let me clarify: this picture is here to show you why you don't need to clip the tails - you're not going to do any trimming at this point.]

Take your units to your ironing board and press the newest piece open. You will get a much nicer unit if you press with the iron instead of just finger-pressing.

 Don't use steam, and do back the heat setting down a bit from the hottest level. I go to the halfway mark between cotton and linen on my iron. (You don't want to scorch your paper.)

You're ready to repeat Step 2 to set up your next sew lines!

Getting back to that Tearing concept:

If your next line intersects any others, there will be a seam going across the seam allowance which will impede your fold when you fold the paper down. The work-through is to simply pop a tear in the middle of the paper along those allowance stitches. Sometimes this happens at the edge of the unit where it's easy to rip from the side. On this unit, it happens right in the middle of the paper. No big deal. I just carefully pull the stitches through the paper and pull that tail all the way out while I'm at it. This lets me fold straight across the next sewing line and trim the allowance for Step 2. 

You don't even need to fret about messy tears! The paper is not important beyond giving you your sewing lines, so just ignore those bloops that pop out every now and then.

Moving Right Along . . .

As you work through the steps, it's not long before you find your groove and pick up momentum. Before you know it, you're on the last seam line!

And then you're ready to trim the outer edges of the units! Simply lay a ruler down along the cut line (make sure you're not cutting on the sewing line) and roll away! 

It's so nice to see the finished units go from ugly ducklings to pretty little swans. . .

. . . So that you have some really pretty Floating Flying Geese units:

. . . or some nice New York Beauties:

. . . or even a handful of fun Stepping Stones! 
            - Yes, these are for an entirely different quilt. ;D

And now I have the utmost respect and appreciation for all those wonderful folks who have put together tutorials.  It takes forever!  Thank you for everything you each share.


  1. Thanks for the wonderful tutorial. I still don't know if I'm ready to give paper piecing a try. You do make it look quite easy.

  2. Oh my goodness....that is going to be one awesome quilt...and thanks for the tutoria....I really don't like to paper piece...but you can do some amazing things with it. Can't wait to see yours finished.

  3. Great Tutorial! I love to paper piece and I've learned this technique only in the last year. It is a great trick. I really want to know how you piece a curve like in those New York Beauties. Any tips for that?
    Nice work!!

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. I'm sure you mentioned it somewhere, but where can I get the floating geese pattern/tutorial from please?

    Loved the tutorial, it will help me with my nemesis of not having the right size pieces for the next shape!



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