Ultimate Guide on Foundation Paper Piecing

Table of Contents

Picture of Ingrid Alteneder

Ingrid Alteneder

Hey there, I love fabric, sewing, quilting and most of all Foundation Paper Piecing. Welcome to my blog!

Foundation Paper Piecing is a fantastic way to get creative with fabrics and leave with some cool projects left afterward.

Has this happened to you before? A stunning and cute quilt block catches your attention, you read the description, and it says it’s “foundation paper pieced”. A moment of dread washes over your face and you say, “I cant do that”!

But I can assure you, YES YOU CAN!

I’ve been in the exact same position, reading the same tutorial over and over trying to figure out how they do it. Now hopefully this tutorial will be the end to all your troubles, I would love to teach you how to effectively paper piece.

Do you want to master foundation paper piecing once and for all? Do you want to stop missing out on all those stunning quilt blocks that are foundation paper pieced? Then read this blog post slowly, with your pattern in hand, and I will try my best to help you hurdle through your beautiful design.

If you need a free foundation paper piecing pattern to work with here is one.

You will find the star pattern  here.

First and foremost, take your time to practice now and you’ll be good to go for ever.

Pro Tip: It can be helpful to practice one pattern multiple times when you are first learning to paper piece. This will help you master some specific tricks and build some of the motor skills necessary to get consistent.

1. Understanding your Paper Piecing Pattern

The first step in a successful foundation paper piecing project is to take some time and understand your pattern. Most patterns typically consists of:

  • a numbered overview, with letters and numbers on it.
  • a colored overview (so you have some inspiration)
  • a blank overview (this is for you to color yourself)
  • and your pattern segments, again lettered and numbered

Each segment features only one letter, but has several numbers; this is the sequence of your sewing. Think of your pattern as a puzzle, each segment is one piece of your puzzle.

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Essential Pattern Tips for Foundation Paper Piecing

Once you get your pattern, place the numbered overview in front of you.
Cut out the pattern segments, along the dotted lines (this is the seam allowance).
Place the segments beside your pattern according to the numbered overview.
This is pretty obvious with the star pattern, but it becomes really important and comes in super handy with more complex patterns.

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Use the Reverse Side or a Mirrored Image

As I mentioned before, foundation paper piecing is done on the reverse side of your paper. This means your pattern is your sewing aid only. Not as with ‘normal’ patterns, where you cut the fabric according to the pattern.
I think this is the most important part of foundation paper piecing, and can’t be emphasized enough.

                              NOTE: The paper is just your sewing aid .

The paper is your base where you sew on, the lines of the pattern are your sewing lines. The block will emerge on the unprinted side of the pattern. And will therefore be a mirrored image of the numbered overview. 

2. Start Sewing your Pattern

It doesn’t matter which segment you sew first, you want to sew them all anyways, so start wherever you want. I will start with segment A here, just because I like starting from the right today.

  • Set your sewing machine to 1.5 mm or 16-18 stitches/inch,

Setting this will make sure the stitches perforate the paper nicely; but are not too close so they don’t rip the paper. This also makes it easier to remove the paper after you finish sewing your block.

  • Turn the first segment over so the Reverse side (unprinted side) is facing you. Place the piece of fabric for section 1 right side up, onto the paper.

Make sure there’s ¼ to ½ inch of fabric around the perimeter of section 1. Be generous in the beginning; once you are familiar with foundation paper piecing, you can cut your fabrics a bit smaller.

  • Pin or glue this fabric in place. I prefer fabric glue. Everything stays nicely in place.
  • Turn the pattern segment over so the printed side is facing you. Fold the pattern on the line between section 1 and 2. (I do this using a postcard, this gives you a nice straight and crisp fold)
  • Trim fabric 1 to a ¼” seam allowance using an acrylic ruler and rotary cutter.

There is a specialty ruler for this, it’s called ADD-A-Quarter-Ruler, which has a 1/4″ lip and
gives you a perfect 1/4″ seam allowance. But any other ruler will work just as fine

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  • Choose the fabric for section 2 the same way you did for section 1, making sure the fabric covers the whole of section 2 and aprox ¼ – ½ ” around the perimeter of section 2.
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– Place fabric for section 2, right sides together with fabric 1.
Aligning the raw edges of the two fabrics along the fold between section1 and 2.

– Now, stitch along the fold between sections 1 and 2, right on the line. The more precisely
you sew, the easier it will be to align your segments! If the line that’s being sewn starts
or finishes at the ¼-inch seam allowance, extend that line right through the
seam allowance by sewing all the way through it!

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– Flip open fabric 2 so the right sides of the fabrics are showing and press with a hot iron
(no steam, as this can distort your fabric and paper ).

Now you choose the fabric for section 3 the same way you did for the other two sections.
Folding now the pattern at the line between section 2 and 3 and so on.
You then sew each section the same way. Adding the fabrics in numerical order, as they appear on each segment.

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– When you’re done sewing the segments, cut off excess fabric along the dotted line.

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– Place the trimmed segments as they are on the numbered overview.
This makes your life so much easier when sewing the segments together.

– Now sew the segments together according to the assembly instructions in the pattern.

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– After sewing two segments together, remove the paper only from the seam allowance
and press the seams open with hot iron (no steam) as flat as possible. (This is where
the tailors clapper comes in very handy , see blog post about clapper here. ) This helps
you to reduce bulk, especially when there are several layers of fabric. It also helps keep
your overall size accurate.

  • After piecing all the segments, remove the remaining paper and use the iron to press
    your finished block.

 

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And that’s it ……………… ALL DONE.
You can also watch a tutorial video here.
What do you think? Doable, right?
You will be a  paper piecing STAR in no time.

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What is foundation paper piecing?

 

It is the process of using paper as a base to sew quilt block patterns. The paper is just your sewing aid.

 

What’s the point of foundation paper piecing?

 

It is a simple way to create complex pattern designs that you can use in quilts and many other stitching projects.

I find accuracy is one of the most important benefits of Foundation Paper Piecing.

Paper piecing is also really fun!

 

Can I use copy paper for foundation paper piecing?

 

Absolut, it is what I use most often. There are several other papers that can be used.

Check out this blog post for more details.

 

What is the first thing to do before paper piecing?

 

I recommend you understand your pattern by knowing what pieces will go where where.

I place all my pieces according to the overview.

This helps you plan out your project and ensure you don’t make a mistake.

 

12 Responses
  1. This is, for me, by far the best tutorial on FPP. I have tried others and felt like I was just working in the dark, became frustrated, and quit.
    So happy I found this. I love JoeJuneandMae patterns and instructions.
    Thank you so much, Sandy Nelsen

  2. I purchased your Eifel Tower pattern . Is there a tutorial which tells you how big to cut the fabric ? I basically just took scraps but was looking for a more uniformed approach where I am assured of having enough fabric to make tower.

    1. Hey Carol,
      for paper piecing I do not pre cut the fabric, For the Eiffel Tower 3/4 of a yard as background fabric is plenty, and scraps for the tower itself are enough.
      Happy sewing 🙂

  3. So glad I found your page! You have explained FPP better than anyone that I’ve watched. I purchased your Rainbow Star and can’t wait to start my first FPP block! Thank you so much.

  4. I downloaded the star, now I will try it out my first time with simple copy paper. After reading your instructions, I think I can do this.

    Thank you Ingrid

  5. Ja, ich möchte den Quilt “Sail Along” machen und habe auch mit dem Seestern angefangen. Ich habe noch nie mit Papier genäht und habe auch alles gut verstanden, aber mit den Segmenten hat es nicht geklappt. Der Seestern ist krumm und schief geworden. Was glauben Sie, welchen Fehler ich gemacht habe?
    Mit freundlichen Früßen, Hildegund Triantafyllidis

    1. Hallo Hildebrand,
      hast du die Anleitung auf dem Bernina Blog genau verfolgt?
      Eigentlich kann dann gar nichts schief werden.
      Aber du kannst dich auch gerne per mail noch mal bei mir melden.

  6. Very helpful. I’m attempting the BERNINA Quilt Safari and struggling to get it right. This detailed explanation with test comments (not just musical videos) is the best tutorial of the various tutorials that I watched (and learned very little from them). I think I see the light so to speak!

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