Thursday, August 3, 2023

Practically Perfect Paper-Piecing! A Tutorial + Tips

Kaleido-Medallion with "Practically Perfect" Paper-Pieced Pretty Points!

Oh, how I love precise, pretty points in quilts, and foundation paper-piecing is my favorite way to get that to that happen.

I've been doing quite a bit of paper piecing lately, have taught several classes, and thought it was time to review the process, plus share a couple of my favorite tips and tricks of this "quilt-by-number" technique.

  •  Add-a-Quarter Ruler (LOVE this tool!) 

  • Tableside rotary cutter and mat
  • GLUE STICK!  Essential to position the first piece, helpful in other ways.
  • Paper copies - enough for your blocks plus an extra copy to cut apart and use as a template for pre-cutting fabrics.  Keep the original as a MASTER copy so all the copies you make forever after will be the same, not a copy of a copy.

    TIP: I have to admit, I've always used the cheapest, flimsiest printer paper I can find - tears away easier. When my friend Nancy came to the studio to learn to paper-piece, she brought fancy vellum paper!  (Whoa, fancy, Nancy!)  It's so easy to see through the vellum.  You can easily fussy cut if you want a certain French motif or phrase centered just right.  Just saying.  It was a luxury and I may have been converted, but vellum costs way more $$.
PREPARE FOUNDATION PAPER.  Paper-pieced patterns are usually numbered, and construction begins with the first numbered section and works sequentially outward (1, 2, 3...).
It's a "quilt by number" system.  Since construction is on the blank side of the paper, you will want to PRE-CREASE all the stitching lines on the pattern.  This will not only indicate where the sections are, but will help when it comes to perforating the paper afterwards. 

KEEP OUTER EDGES ON GRAIN.  Did you know that you can avoid bias edges along the outside of your block?  On the blank side of the pattern simply draw a few lines indicating the grainline.  Then when you fold back the pattern you will be able to see the direction you need to line up your grainline.  If you are using directional fabric, draw arrows to indicate the direction to position the fabric.  ↓  →

PRE-CUT the FABRICS.  This option can really be helpful in controlling fabric waste as well as keeping the outer edges on grain.  Make an extra copy of the pattern, then cut out each individual section on the stitching lines (cut off pattern sections in reverse order).  Pin the right side of the pattern UP with the right side of the fabric facing DOWN (wrong sides together), then rough-cut the fabric around each section with a generous seam allowance on every side, 3/8 to 1/2-inch.  Leave the pattern pinned to each stack, and now your pieces are all ready to use!

GLUE-BASTE the first piece.  Use a dab of glue stick on the blank side of section 1 and position your first piece right side up with the wrong side of the fabric to the paper. Check to be sure the fabric covers the entire section.  Hold it up to a light source if necessary. 
          TIP:  Glue the paper, not the fabric for easier removal.

REDUCE STITCH LENGTH.  Set the stitch length on your machine at about 1.8mm or 1.5mm.  This will help perforate the paper, making it easier to remove when the time comes.   Now you're ready to begin!


These are some little "Footsteps" for paper piecing that help me wrap my brain around the fact that I'm constructing the block on the reverse side of the pattern...

See?  FooTStePS!

STEP 1)  FOLD.  With printed side of the pattern right side up, FOLD back on the line between the section you are working on and the next adjacent section. 

**TIP:  You should not have to flip over your paper at all until the stitching is done and you are ready to press.  Keep the printed side UP until Step 4!

STEP 2)  TRIM seam allowance to 1/4".  Use the Add-A-Quarter ruler which has a fancy little ridge that abuts against the folded edge of the pattern and gives you the perfect straight edge to cut with your rotary cutter.  

**TIP:  Trimming before adding the next piece will also ensure that you don't use too much of the next piece of fabric and lose a corner or an edge here and there.

     Now, these next steps of mine don't really fit with the little
"FooTStePS" acronym, but these are probably the most important steps of all:
Take a moment to E.A.P.!!  ENVISION, AUDITION, POSITION...

With your pattern still folded back, it's time to ENVISION the next adjacent section.  
This is easily done if you have used vellum - you can see the outline.  
If you've used plain paper, you'll see the folded lines that outline the next piece.  
You may even wish to color in the lines or write the color on that section
to remind yourself which print or color to use.

AUDITION your next piece of fabric right side up
over the still-folded-back section.  Check that the piece covers ALL the lines,
plus ample excess to cover the seam allowances around the shape.  

{**NOTE**  This is also a time to check your grainline!
Align the edges of your fabric with the edges on the straight of grain
to help avoid stretchy bias edges on the outside of the block.}

Now, POSITION!  With the right side of the fabric still facing up,
move the fabric to the bottom of the pile (right sides together).
You can still check to be sure all edges of the pattern section
are covered with a generous seam allowance.  
Line up the edge with your pre-trimmed edge (see Step 2).  
This entire process takes place while the main printed side
 of the pattern is facing UP.

Yes!  You can do this!  I promise that taking time to E.A.P 
will save hours of frustration and consternation and un-sewing...  
STEP 3)  STITCH.  Fold pattern back into place with the printed side still up, then STITCH on the line through all the layers.  You may be more comfortable slipping in a few pins before taking it to the sewing machine.  Start well before the line and take a few extra stitches after the line.  It is helpful to take three stitches in place to lock the beginning and ending.

**TIP:  When sewing to the edge of the block, be sure to sew past the 1/4-inch seam allowance.

STEP 4)  PRESS.  Now you can flip over your unit to see the fabrics on the other side.  Use a hot, dry iron to press the segment away from the previous section.  Or, you can finger-press, but be sure to get that fabric piece folded back against the stitches. 

**TIP:  If needed, use a little dab of glue stick to keep it in place.

Now you are ready to REPEAT steps 1- 4 until the block is complete.

STEP 5)  SMILE!  You did it!  See? "FooTStePS<< click to see photo tutorial.

**TIP:  Try "chain-piecing"!  If you have multiple units that are identical, sew the same seam on all of the units.  When they're all sewn, press them all at once, then they will be ready for the next piece.  I usually make one block all the way through as a sample, then work on one seam at a time for all of the subsequent identical units. 

Lastly, TRIM the block, leaving 1/4" seam allowance around all the edges. 

Now, at this point, you can PEEL OFF the paper if you are confident with the piecing and seam allowances.  If you prefer, you can leave the paper on to join with another section, especially if you want to match points.  

Push a pin straight through on the point you want to match, then anchor it with the adjoining piece.  With that anchor pin in place, insert pins on both sides of the anchor pin through both layers to secure, then remove the anchor pin. Stitch through the paper on the seam line and peel the paper afterward.  

If you've reduced your stitch length and have folded the paper back and forth a couple of times, it will be a piece of cake to easily pull off the papers.  Then it's time for a "Paper-Piecing Perforation Party"!  Yay!

The results?  Perfectly beautiful points!

I'll be teaching this quilt as a class at The Garden of Quilts on September 16th, 2023 in Lehi, Utah.  This wonderful show, sponsored by Riley Blake Designs, is one of my very favorite quilt shows ever.  Come join me to make this quilt.  More details HERE.

For ideas of how to do "paperless" paper-piecing and reducing and enlarging formulas, click HERE.
Happy Paper-Piecing!!
~ Deonn


  1. What a beautiful quilt! It really sparkles.
    I do a lot of foundation piecing (mostly on minis), and have done for years. But I did learn a few things reading through this excellent tutorial. Thanks for sharing your knowledge of the process.
    And for the record, I buy packages of cheap newsprint on Amazon. It isn't as cheap now as it used to be, but it tears away so easily, without being too thin to hold its shape. My only experience with vellum is in art, and it was a long time ago. Seems like it wouldn't tear as easily as newsprint. Did you find it was no problem to tear?


So happy you stopped by for a visit! Thank you!