Tutorial · weekly update

Paper Piecing Tutorial

Today, I was going to talk about the design process for this Diamonds quilt I made for the Maker’s Birthday Bash swap.  However, I realized it might be better to talk about how to paper piece first before going into designing a paper piecing pattern!

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I’ll discuss the design process of this quilt in 2 weeks after it’s in the mail to my partner!  It’s my finish #5 of the year and has been updated on the Completed Quilts page.

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The example I’m using for paper piecing is the Month 5 block of the Modern Heritage Block of the Month, which is the Mingle block from Amy Ellis’ book Modern Heritage Quilts.

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Items that you will need to make a block:

  • 8 background pieces and 8 color pieces (sizes are listed in the pattern of the book)
  • Ruler and Rotary Cutter
  • Scissors or an Add-A-Quarter Ruler
  • 4 copies of the A and B blocks copied at 100% from the book.
  • Paper scissors

The first step to any paper piecing pattern is to rough cut the paper pattern with your paper scissors. For this block, I laid out the pieces so I am looking at final layout of the block.  The key is to remember: this is the BACK of the block.  I’ll say that again, the printed side of the paper is the BACK of the block.

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So as you lay fabric out onto the block, remember this will be mirrored when you are finished.  The left photo is fabric right side up, the right photo (the correct way to do it) is the fabric right-side down to simulate the back of the block.

One key point to note specifically about this block pattern, the As and the Bs don’t really matter.  The number is what signifies the order in which the fabric is added to the block.  The correction I would make to the pattern is to swap the A1 and A2 locations.  When I was making this block for the tutorial I also swapped B1 and B2; this is WRONG, do not do that.  Swap ONLY the A1 and A2 locations.  This will help your seams nest better when you sew the block together in the end.

For the A blocks, the background fabric is the first fabric you will add onto.  Place the paper pattern over the background fabric making sure the seam allowances are within the inside of the fabric.  Remember to include seam allowance for the side that is going to be sewn to the next piece.  It doesn’t matter if there is more than 1/4″ of seam allowance, just don’t have less. Once you’ve checked the seam allowances have fabric underneath, pin the paper to the fabric.

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Next, flip the piece upside down so the paper is on the bottom.  Fold on the seam line so the paper for next piece to be added is on top.

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Now open the folded paper and add the next piece of fabric Right Sides Together (RST) to the bottom fabric.  The bulk of the piece should be over the fabric of the piece that was pinned, not over the paper.  Refold the paper to crease the fabric to simulate your seam line.  Check the seam allowance on the outer sections to make sure there is enough fabric to cover that piece once the seam is sewn.  Then open the fold and check the inside seam allowance.  Is there at least a 1/4″ seam?  If not, adjust the fabric so there is a 1/4″ sewn seam and the outer edges of the piece will fit within the seam allowance.  The last step once you get the fabric adjusted is to pin.  (*I don’t pin this part, I just hold it while I sew.  However, for beginners it would be best to pin.)

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Shorten the stitch length on your machine to approximately 1.5mm.  This will help perforate the paper to remove later.  Sew on the line.  Make sure to start before the line and end after the line.  This will create the sewn seam allowance like you would normally have piecing fabric. This will be important when you have more than one seam line. Once you’ve sewn on the line you can remove your pins. Take the A2 section and fold on the seam line to the A1 side as shown in the photo.  The fabric and both sides of the paper should be to one side of the seam.  The only part left is the seam allowance.  Now you have several options to trim down to the 1/4″ seam.  You can use an Add-a-quarter ruler or a plain ruler that has a 1/4″ marking.  The other option on smaller seams is to just use your scissors to cut the seam by hand.  (This is my preferred method as long as the seam isn’t longer than 2-3 inches.)

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Now you iron the seam.  Placing the paper side DOWN on the ironing board, iron the seam then open the piece.  Always have the seams going to the piece that was ADDED.  One of the key points here, do NOT iron the paper side.  If you printed with a laser jet printer, you will get ink all over your hot iron and it’s messy.  (Guess how I know?!)  If you iron the paper, you are doing it wrong.  You will only be ironing on the fabric side.

To trim the piece, it is good practice to always use your ruler.  Measure 1/4″ off the edge of the piece to trim away the excess after the seam allowance.  Do not blindly trim the printed seam allowance line. Getting into the habit of trimming with the ruler will allow for you to increase and decrease the block size from the copier while maintaining a 1/4″ seam on the piece.

Do not rip off the paper yet.  Now repeat the above steps for the rest of the pieces for the block. For the B blocks, the color side is the first piece and you are adding the background.  For other patterns, if you have more than just 2 pieces, repeat starting with the folding of the seam line to add the additional pieces.

Once all the pieces were completed and trimmed, I laid out the block.  Notice how this is the mirror of what was originally laid out above.

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For this block, I sewed the triangles together to make the 4 squares in the block.  Again please note, you should NOT switch B1 and B2. I figured that out when I sewed the squares together.

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I open the triangles to make sure my seams are aligned.  Since I did switch the B1 and B2, all my seams were to one side and it did not nest well.

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Now to rip out the paper.  I typically only sew two pieces together that are paper pieced and no more.  After two are sewn together, the paper gets pretty hard to remove.  So here are my tips on removing the paper.  Always remove the paper from the inside to the outside (outside referring to an edge of the block).  So for this case I start on the inner most seam and rip that apart.

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With that part of the paper ripped, I fold the shorter seam allowance in and then rip the paper.  Once that is removed the A2 triangle only has one side that is still attached.  I fold and rip to take that out.  Followed by A1, and lastly by the seam allowance next to A1.  For all of the pieces I start ripping from the inside to the edge.  Repeat this for the B side on the back and then for all the other pieces.

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With all the paper removed, line up the blocks so they are oriented the same way. Because this is a square and will form a pinwheel, you will want to press the seams all in the same direction.  Once you have pressed the blocks into squares.  Change the stitch length back to normal on your machine. Sew the top two blocks together first, then sew the bottom two blocks together.  Press seams in alternate directions and sew the top to the bottom.  I pressed the center seam open to get rid of the bulky center for this particular block.

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Ta Da!

Common FAQ for paper piecing:
What is the difference between Foundation Paper and Copy Paper?

  • Foundation paper is thinner and more like newspaper.  It is easier to remove, but it’s more costly than normal paper.  I actually prefer to use Copy Paper because it’s readily available.  There are also other methods to help remove paper from paper piecing that I’ll go over another day for more complicated blocks.

Is an Add-A-Quarter ruler necessary?

  • No, it is not necessary.  Some people swear by them.  I got one in a kit that had paper piecing in it, but honestly, I don’t use it much.  Like I mentioned above, I actually use scissors to hand trim short seams because it’s faster.  For longer seams, a ruler does just fine.

Oh no, I messed up and I need to rip out a seam.  How do I do that so I don’t rip the paper?

  • Always rip the seam BETWEEN the two layers of fabric.  If you happen to tear the paper, use a small piece of scotch tape to tape the tear.  The paper should still be able to be ripped out later.

Anything else you want to know, comment below!

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Short recap on the week because this is a crazy long post:

Here’s the Quilter’s Planner Block from last week, Sunrise Stars By Chelsea Huckins of Patch the Giraffe.  This one was pretty quick to do.  I’m not the biggest fan of the flying geese with HST combo because I kept getting confused which direction things were going.  However, in the end I realized it didn’t really matter!

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Lots of design work going on, but I seem to be running out of time to actually get those design into quilts.  Definitely more to come in the future!  Here’s what I have done so far for the Modern Quilt Guild (MQG) Fabric Challenge:

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3/28-4/4 Weekly Goal:
Available time for quilting:
Wednesday PM, Thursday PM, Saturday and Sunday afternoon

Projects I want to work on:
Quilter’s Planner Block
Powered By Quilting PBQ103
MQG Fabric Challenge
Blossom Project

Goals for the Projects:
Quilter’s Planner Block: Complete this week’s block
PBQ103: Make more blocks… or block pieces!
MQG Fabric Challenge: Finish the design for the text and start applique
Blossom Project: Finish quilting my project for the blog hop next week!

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