Paper Piecing Tips and Tricks

Paper piecing opens up a whole new world of intricate quilt designs and I guess by now you know its one of my favorite ways to piece. A few years ago I wrote a couple of tutorials HERE and HERE to help you understand the basic principles of Foundation Paper Piecing.  I thought it might be a good time to update my blog with my Paper Piecing Tips and Tricks to help you achieve results that are as close to perfect as possible.


Now I'm no expert and I'm completely self taught at everything quilting related but over the years you learn what does and doesn't work by..... just going for it! I'm of the belief that no matter how hard a design looks if you understand the general principles of FPP, you can paper piece anything. With a little patience, you really can..... trust me!
I'm not reinventing the wheel here, I'm just sharing a few things to be conscious of before and during the process, to ensure your paper piecing goes smoothly. Of course this is based on how I draft a FPP pattern for you; other designers may do them slightly different.
So lets have a look at a paper piecing project I'm currently working on:

  • Numerical Order: It's important to identify the sewing order of each template before you begin sewing. Templates may look the same but the order in which they are pieced will create the "seam butt" to assist in sewing the completed units together later on.  I always circle the first piece to be sewn on each template to identify my starting point. 

  • Colour/ Fabric Placement: It's also very important to label each section with your chosen colour/fabric selection prior to piecing. Remember you are working in reverse so it can be confusing.  Labeling the templates before you sew saves a lot of time and any pesky reverse sewing (unpicking). I use my own shorthand system for labeling templates; it may look foreign but I know which fabric I'm referring to.

  • Stitch Length: Its best to choose a smaller stitch length when paper piecing. Generally I use a 2.0mm stitch for FPP but I will go down to a 1.4mm for those smaller sections. This allows me to get more stitches into a section and really secure those seams. Just lately I've developed a habit of sewing a stitch or two into the outer seam allowances. This also helps secure smaller sections, and if needed its easy to remove these stitches when piecing units together. I also find that my seams are less likely to unravel when I remove the paper.

  • Notches: Once a unit has been pieced, you need to trim away the excess fabric and any excess paper. Don't forget to cut those notches! These are vital to positioning pieces together before sewing. Its difficult to line up seams without the notches so make sure you trim these correctly and they should line up perfectly with the next section to be sewn.

  • Joining Units: When I join units together, I begin by using the notches to find the correct position. To check the seams line up perfectly, I poke a pin through the front unit at either end of the sewing line and ideally when its pushed through both units, it should line up with the sewing lines on the back unit. You may need to adjust it a little and holding it up to a window or light source helps with visibility. Once I have everything lined up, I add a couple of binding clips to secure the pieces and then I remove the pins.

  • Binding Clips: Binding clips are brilliant for FPP and they hold the units together securely without distortion. If you position the clips just on the sewing line, you can fold back one unit and check how everything lines up before you sew.  You could also use mini bulldog or fold back clips to hold everything together but be sure to remove them as you sew. I don't recommend using pins for FPP due to the thickness of the paper and fabric.

  • Lining Up: If you follow the steps above your seams should line up and you must keep checking this while sewing the units together. You cant "fudge" paper piecing because you will distort the shape and then nothing will match. If your seams don't line up there is nothing else to do but unpick it and try again. And sometimes it takes a couple of tries to get it right. To avoid frustration, I suggest walking away for awhile, grab a snack (like chocolate) or a coffee and then try again. It really helps!

  • Lastly I just wanted to share how I add large single pieces like this triangle to other units. First, I cut a triangle slightly larger than required and then I secure the template to the fabric with a couple of pieces of double sided tape. I trim back only the side that I'm about to sew, including the notches so I can correctly position the unit. Once it is sewn in place, I remove the double sided tape, press the piece into position and then trim it up using all the seam lines to ensure everything is lined up correctly and square.

I really hope these tips help with your next paper piecing project and maybe take a little of the fear out of some of the more intricate designs. It does take patience and some days go smoother than others but most of the time it's a fun way to piece a quilt. Nothing is ever going to be perfect but as long as your happy with how close it is and everything fits correctly, that's all that matters :)
And just before I go, the quilt I'm working on in these photos is my upcoming May mini quilt, Lumen. I hope you've enjoyed the little sneak peek and I cant wait to share this one with you later in the month, its stunning!
Happy quilting :)

4 comments

  1. I enjoyed reading your tips...many of which I already do, but a couple were new to me. One thing I do, even using a smaller stitch length, I back tack a couple stitches anytime the stitching line crosses the outer edge. Just seems to hold all the pieces together better once the paper is removed.

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    1. Thanks for sharing that tip Teresa. I would only ever sew from line to line but I have been taking advantage of those outer seam edges and it does help :) I'll give your idea a try :)

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  2. well hey. we want to know what the finished block looks like :)
    thanks for all you share, Sharyn in Kalama

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    1. Oh I can't wait to share this mini with you either Sharyn :) If I just help one person with the things I share then I'm a happy blogger. Enjoy the rest of your week :)

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