Paper Piecing Basics and Tips

Making quilts with really accurate piecing for intricate designs is often done with paper piecing. So many quilters are afraid of this, and it really is not hard. So, let’s look at the basics of how to do this the easy way, so you can stay on track and have perfect results. Using the open toe foot (#4 in the Madam Sew Ultimate Presser Foot Set) helps to see the lines to stitch on.

Beginners should start with fairly simple designs, but really, you can do any design that appeals to you. This teacup really isn’t difficult, just go step by step. First, use some color pencils and color the pattern so you can be reminded of what goes where.

Take some measurements of the pieces you need and make a list. Understand that there is more waste with paper piecing. I think sometimes the frustration is in trying to 'mirror' the pattern piece with an exact fabric bit. Then, the pieces get off the lines and don't have the right amount of seam allowance. You will need to have at least 1/4-inch more on all sides for a seam allowance, and I use a bit bigger for comfort. For odd shape pieces, triangles and five sided bits, use a larger square or rectangle. It will reduce your cutting time, and save you endless frustration when the block goes together quickly. Do all your cutting at once, making sure you have the number of pieces that the pattern calls for.

Start with piece #1, place it correctly for the pattern, right side down. Remember that you are sewing in reverse, so the wrong side will be facing the paper on the first piece. Pin from the pattern side. I hold my pattern up to the light to be sure it is big enough. Take a few stitches well outside the pattern area just to hold it in place, for this piece I put three or four stitches in the middle of the A6 area, and again outside the cutting line. Both those areas will be cut off as the pattern progresses. As you can see, the fabric is more than generous enough to cover the A1 pattern area, with the seam allowance and more to spare.

Shorten your stitch length. This will create more perforations in the paper, making it easier to tear it off when you are done.

Now, using something straight and very thin, like this bookmark. Place it on the line between piece 1 and piece 2. Piece #A1 is covered by the bookmark here.

Fold the paper over the bookmark to expose the fabric.

Now, trim the fabric to a 1/4-inch seam allowance.

Line up the next piece with the edge you just cut, right sides together. The right side of the fabrics from here on will be up, facing the right side of the previous pieces.

Pin on the pattern side. Sew on the line. Use your open foot so you can see the lines well. Sew beginning 1/4-inch before the line, and ending 1/4-inch past it.

Flip the piece over, press the seam.

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Lay your straight-edge on the next line between pieces 2 and 3, and continue the same steps around the piece in the order given.

When you get to the line perpendicular to the previous seam lines and fold the pattern over the straight edge, the previous pieces may lift up, from the 1/4-inch stitching overage. Just pull them flat, tearing the pattern just a bit where the stitches were. This is OK, it won't affect the final result. The dark green bit on the left has the original stay-stitches in it, simple detach them from the paper.

Cut to 1/4-inch seam allowance as before, and place the next piece underneath, again right sides together.

Sew in the same manner. Keep building in the same way, following the order on the pattern.

On paper piecing patterns, the darker line is the edge of the pattern, and the lighter line around the edge is the cutting line. If your pattern doesn't have these lighter cutting lines, add them yourself before beginning the piecing. Be sure your fabric is large enough to cover that light outer line on edge pieces. For all pieces that intersect the outer edge, stitch 1/4-inch past the cutting line, or begin sewing outside the cutting line.

For triangles, five sided bits and unusual shapes, use fabric pieces larger than the area to be covered, and cut in squares or rectangles, rather than trying to 'mirror' the shape.

Sew on the line, starting 1/4-inch outside the cutting line, as this one will intersect the edge.

When you have all the pieces done and pressed, stay stitch the edge just outside the final pattern line, but inside the cutting line. This will stabilize the edge for tearing the paper to reduce distortion, yet be out of the way of the final sewing line so it won't show on the finished project.

Cut on the cutting line.

Tear away the paper. Press the finished piece.

So, in a nutshell...
1. Color the pattern.
2. Shorten the stitch length.
3. Cut pieces larger than needed, accepting that there will be more waste.
4. Use squares and rectangles regardless of the piece final shape.
5. Stabilize the first piece.
6. Use a thin straight edge to fold the pattern back, trim the fabric to 1/4-inch.
7. Line up the next piece with the cut edge.
8. Sew 1/4-inch past the end point of the line on both sides.
9. Sew 1/4-inch past the edges of the cutting line for pieces intersecting the edge.
10. Sew a stay-stitch all around the piece before taking the paper off.

Most of all, have fun! Paper piecing is easy and accurate, and even a beginner can do very complex designs. Are you ready to try it out?


Download the free pdf pattern on this page and make your own teacup from here


Happy quilting!!