·

How to Foundation Paper Piece

Foundation Paper Piecing (FPP) is a skill that every quilter should have, even if it’s not something you do very often. Foundation Paper Piecing is a patchwork technique where you stitch fabric to paper. The paper is removed before quilting.

This tutorial will give you the basics for how to foundation paper piece with the traditional method. (There’s an alternative method that uses freezer paper and I’ll link to my tutorial on that further down.)

I confess now that FPP is not my preferred method of construction and so it’s not one that I go to often, but it is a skill I have and I think it’s valuable that we all have it. There’s some amazing FPPers out there (Kristy at QuietPlay and Juliet at TartanKiwi to name 2!) and I recommend you check them out if this a technique you’d like to learn more about.

Some of you might be wondering why I’d suggest you learn to FPP and here’s my personal pro’s and con’s for Foundation Paper Piecing:

Benefits:

  • Complex Patterns – The biggest benefit to FPP in my opinion is being able to make complex blocks easily and without worrying about tricky math, cutting or fabric stretch.
  • Accuracy – A lot of people swear that their accuracy is better when using FPP. I don’t find this, but then I’ve done a lot of practice with patchwork and so I’m better with piecing then FPP.

Drawbacks:

  • Time Consuming – Now this one is personal preference, but I find having to print patterns and tear paper out 2 steps too many in my patchworking process.
  • Extra Materials – You’ll need to print all your FPP patterns/templates on to copy paper before you can begin.
  • Fabric Waste – This again is probably reflective of my sewing style, but I find I waste more fabric when I FPP because of the odd angles and shapes often used in the blocks.
  • Harder to Fussy Cut – It can be done, but it requires a little too much brain power for me at this stage in my sewing career. It’s a skill I’d like to get better at when it comes to FPP.

For me personally, I tend to only do FPP when there’s a pictorial block that I want to make. I rarely use it for patchwork blocks, but that doesn’t mean that for the right block I wouldn’t bust out this skill. The main thing is, I have the skill so I have choices.

preparation is key!

Like most things in life, a little preparation goes a long way. Here’s the things I like to have on hand when I’m FPPing:

  • Scrap Collecting “Bucket” – As I cut and trim fabric to size for the piecing I just throw the off cuts into the scrap bin. This means that if there’s smaller pieces in subsequent areas I can dig into the fabric scraps from this project to find pieces. When the bucket is full or at the end of the project I sort them into my colour scrap boxes. (You don’t need a literal bucket – just a container to collect them in.)
  • A new Rotary Cutter Blade – your blade is going to run through fabric and paper so it’s handy to have a new blade on hand when you’ve finished the foundation piecing – same goes for a machine needle. I often have 2 rotary cutters in action – one just for fabric and one for trimming FPP piecing (which includes the paper) to size.
  • A Back Up Pattern – If you’re able I always recommend factoring in a bit of a “mistakes” allowance. Sometimes you can have a spare copy of the pattern, if not having the ability to reprint if you go astray is always handy.
  • Your Trusty Seam Ripper – I’m a big believer in basting when joining tricking sections so that you can make sure that it’s right. You’ll need the seam ripper to remove these stitches once you’ve got it stitched in place.
  • Prepare Your Pattern – Cut your pattern out 1/8″ on the outside of the dotted line. The area between the solid pattern line and the dotted line is your seam allowance.
  • Mark Your Pattern – Use a coloured pencil/pen to mark your fabric choices in each section. Do the same on the block assembly printer.
  • Watch What You Bin – Do not throw away your block assembly picture.

A Friendly Reminder

Things to keep reminding yourself while working on your blocks:

  • Speed Kills – if your machine has a variable speed control now is the time to use it. Turn your speed down!
  • 3 times and it’s Done – set a limit on how many times you’ll unstitch something. For me it’s 3. If I haven’t gotten it by the third go, I’m not going to so I’m just going to live with it as it is.
  • You’re your own worst critic – no one else can see that the pattern doesn’t line up the way you meant it to, or the fabric is in upside down, or that you meant it to go the other way. Just relax and enjoy the process. (And if you learn how to do that, teach me!)

And most importantly you need to have a big dose of self belief!

you-are-supposed-to-make-mistakes
Image source: God is Heart

Quick Tips for Foundation Paper Piecing

Here’s a couple of tips that I have found handy for foundation piecing on copy paper:

  • Shorten your stitch length – it works the same way the machine that used to make old school postage stamps did (ok, did I just lose some of you?) – the holes made by your needle act as a perforation and make tearing away the paper easier. (It also makes unpicking a bit of a crappy task… but hey, what can you do?)
  • Use a 70/10 needle – unless there’s lots of bulk when joining sections together and in that case you’d want to use a 80/12
  • Use a good quality thread – I use and recommend Wonderfil Deco Bob. It melts into the fabric, but is super easy to unpick (which is handy!)
  • Do not use a machine foot that has a guide – it’ll get stuck!
  • Use your rule to make a crease mark – this was a trick I found on the internet back when I first started to dabble in foundation piecing and it’s been such a handy one to have. (I just wish I could remember where I found it.)

Understanding a Foundation Paper Piece Pattern

There’s some things that are specific to Foundation Paper Piecing and are not used in traditional patchwork.

  • Direction: Printed pattern is reversed because you’re working from the back of the completed block.
  • A pattern piece has a segment and section identifier. For example, A1 is segment 1 and section A.
  • Join segments in numerical order to complete a section.
  • Join sections in alphabetical order to complete the pattern.

How To Foundation Paper Piece

The following tutorial shows you the technique, it is not specific to a pattern. The pictures reflect a hand drawn pattern, if you’ve purchased a FPP pattern it will look more “polished” then this.

remember

  • Place pattern paper wrong side to wrong side of fabric.
  • Place right side of fabric to right side of fabric.
  • Stitch on the solid line between each segment.
  • Always reinforce (back stitch) your start and end of stitches.
gnomeangel-foundation-piecing-folded-edge-trick-quilting-modern-medallion-1

1. Start with your foundation piecing pattern and a ruler. With the paper right side (the side that your pattern is printed on) facing up line up the quarter inch mark on the ruler along the solid line. Remember, the solid line is where you’ll stitch.

In this example (above picture) I’m doing the first triangle (which is under my ruler) and I’ve lined up the ruler against the first line of stitching and worked out where I want the edge of my seam allowance to come to (it will be the edge of the ruler).

gnomeangel-foundation-piecing-folded-edge-trick-quilting-modern-medallion-2

2. Pick up the edge of the paper (in this case it’s to the left of the ruler) and fold it back over the edge of the ruler. Run you finger (or finger nail if you have them) along the edge of the ruler. You want to mark/score the line into the paper. You don’t need a lot of pressure to do this, you just need to use enough so you can see the mark when you fold the paper back.

gnomeangel-foundation-piecing-folded-edge-trick-quilting-modern-medallion-3

When you remove the ruler, fold the paper out and turn it over you should have a mark like this on the paper. This will become your guide for fabric placement.

gnomeangel-foundation-piecing-folded-edge-trick-quilting-modern-medallion-4

3. Take the first 2 fabric pieces you’re going to use in your block. Place them right sides together and then line their edges up with the score mark you made with the ruler.

Important: Check that the top and bottom edge of your fabric pieces extend past the top and bottom of the pattern lines. If you pin against the line and fold the fabric back (so the pin acts like the stitches will) and hold it up to a light source you should be able to confirm that once stitched down your fabric will cover your segment.

Tip: You can pin the fabrics in place if you’re worried they’ll move when you flip the paper to run it through your sewing machine. I usually only pin at the top, although after having a seam move on me I started pinning top and bottom. It really depends on how confident I’m feeling about my sewing skills at the time.

gnomeangel-foundation-piecing-folded-edge-trick-quilting-modern-medallion-5

4. Once you’ve got the fabric pinned in place you want to flip the paper and fabric together and put them through your sewing machine.

Important: Make sure you secure your start and finish – this is particularly important with foundation piecing as you’re going to put pressure on the stitching when you come to remove your papers. (Learn from my mistakes – you need to backstitch!)

Tip: I like to run 1 or 2 stitches past the end of the line so that when I come to join my section I am sure to catch the seams and stitching properly.

gnomeangel-foundation-piecing-folded-edge-trick-quilting-modern-medallion-6

5. With your seam stitched (and secure) remove the pattern from your sewing machine and take it to your ironing board. You now iron the top piece of fabric over and expose the right side. This is exactly the same as you would do when you piece regular patchwork.

Tip: You don’t need to iron at this step, you can fold back and finger press or use a roller but I’ve been caught short before with excess fabric in the fold when I’ve done it without ironing.

gnomeangel-foundation-piecing-folded-edge-trick-quilting-modern-medallion-7

6. Once you’ve ironed your seam take your paper and fabric back to your cutting mat. Now you just repeat the steps 1 and 2. Line up your quarter inch mark with the stitch line, fold the paper and score the paper.

This time you’re going to leave the paper folded and use it as a cutting guide.

gnomeangel-foundation-piecing-folded-edge-trick-quilting-modern-medallion-8

7. If you need to, line up the edge of your ruler with the fold in the paper. Be careful to ensure the edge of your ruler does not lie on the paper underneath (you don’t want to slice your pattern!). Using your rotary cutter trim the fabric.

gnomeangel-foundation-piecing-folded-edge-trick-quilting-modern-medallion-9

Fold the paper back out and flip it. You’re edge should look like this – nice and clean.

gnomeangel-foundation-piecing-folded-edge-trick-quilting-modern-medallion-10

8. Grab your next bit of fabric and line it up (right sides together) with the seam edge. Ensure that it extends out past the top and bottom of the section. Marked here with the 2 dots and arrows.

Now do steps 5 – 8 again and continue all the way through the pattern.

More Tutorials

If you’d like to see more tutorials on foundation paper piecing from others them check out the links below: