Foundation Paper Piecing Hints and Tips

Foundation piecing can sometimes be a little frustrating - it's a technique that takes practice. Once you get the hang of the basics though, there's nothing stopping you from tackling the most complex of patterns. But along the way, there are a few little tips that might help you. Or at least - make paper piecing seem a teeny bit tedious. It seems like it's my duty as a paper piecing fanatic to share some of these with you! So here are a couple of things that will make your paper piecing less of a chore.

Stitch Length

Now we all know the basics - shorten your stitch length. I usually shorten mine down to 1.5 on my Bernina. Which is great for when it comes to tearing off the papers, but is a pain in the bum if you have to unpick it. If you do have a seam to sew that you're a bit worried about (like when joining sections or angles), whack that stitch length up to max, use it as a basting stitch and then see how your pieces line up. If it's all good, then you can resew it with the short stitch length. If it need unpicking, trust me, you'll be glad you used a longer stitch!

Piecing Angles

You can find a step by step tutorial on how to piece angles. This is my go-to method for angles. You can always just get a large chunk of fabric and hope for the best, but I've found using this method is pretty accurate. You can find the tutorial here.

Piecing Angles Tutorial

Joining Sections and Those Skinny Bits of Paper

When you get to working with more complex patterns, there's often a lot of sections to join together. One thing I don't think gets enough of a mention in tutorials is the paper in the seam allowances.

You might be wondering why I'm making a song and dance about this - surely you can just remove the paper all at the end? Sure. You can. But. With this method, it's a lot easier and you're less likely to need tweezers to get the paper out of cross seams. Also your block lies flatter when your join the sections, less bulk, and it looks prettier. But the main bonus is it's easier at the end when you're removing the paper!

Here's one I prepared earlier! You can see I have joined sections together in this photo. I like to take the paper off as soon as I've stitched the two sections together (so I do it while I'm still at the sewing machine, photos are just on my cutting mat for a better background!).

Here's the seam allowance I'm talking about. To make it easier to tear off, fold it down first along the seam line, then tear it off.

You need to do this for both sides of the seam. So you'll end up with two skinny bits of paper torn off for each seam.

Here's how it looks when all the seam allowances are removed and the block has been ironed. You can see without the bulk in those seam allowances, the block lays quite flat.

But the best part of doing this as you go, is when you sew all the sections together, you don't have tiny bits of paper caught in the cross seam. Those are not fun to try to remove!

Hopefully these tips will help with your paper piecing. I know not everyone loves the process as much as I (and that's ok! Sometimes I like to regular piece too, believe it or not!), but these ought to make things go a little more smoothly and take some of the pain out of the technique!

Organise your Fabrics

To streamline the piecing process, I like to rough-cut my fabrics to size and put them in order ready to piece. Pictures first, explanation second.

This shows one of the sections I was piecing. As I work through sections, I rough cut my fabric to size. That is I grab the first colour, lay it over the paper template and make sure I cut a big enough chunk to still have 1/4″ seam allowance all the way around. I tend to err on the generous side. It makes life easier, trust me.

However if you’re a bit OCD about your stash, you may not love having rough chunks cut out of your pretty fabrics. So another option – you can use your ruler and measure how wide the section to piece is (don’t forget the seam allowance) and cut a strip with your ruler. I do this if I’m paper piecing the same pattern mulitple times and know I’ll need the same size pieces of background fabric for multiple sections.

It doesn’t stop there. Cut your fabrics in order and lay them in a pile IN ORDER. Nothing worse than grabbing the wrong scrap and piecing it in the wrong place. Not that I’d ever do that. Ahem. This makes it quicker to piece each section when you can just grab a fabric scrap, sew it up, move along to the next one. Try it. You’ll like it.

Pressing Matters

This tip involves a notion that you’re going to want in your paper piecing toolbox – a Clover Finger Presser. Ok it doesn’t have to be Clover branded, but that’s my preferred one. You can also use a seam roller. Just something that will save you trips to the iron for every.single.seam.

See how that seam is sitting up after being sewn? Most unruly. Normally this would involve a trip to the iron to smooth it flat before moving on, right? Not necessarily. Just watch.

Side note: it’s very hard to take a photo of yourself demonstrating the use of a magic sewing tool, so forgive the weird angle. But here you see the Finger Presser in action. It’s like magic, really.

Now look at how lovely and smooth that seam is! Good seam! And now you can move onto the next piece (from your nicely orderly pile of rough cut fabrics). I like to piece alllll the sections at once, then iron them all at once, then trim them to size all at once. It’s a bit of a factory production line, but that’s how I prefer to do it. Then I iron again when joining the sections. You can use the finger presser on these joining seams too, but I find an iron does a better job.

While we’re talking about irons – again personal preference. I use a dry iron. I found using steam, sometimes the water would leak and could make the ink on the paper run (possibly staining your fabric!). Plus I never have to worry about refilling the water. Dry iron all the way.

So there you have it. A few little tips and hints that may make paper piecing a little more fun. But please, don’t blame me if this further feeds your addiction. I only accept thanks, chocolate and vodka. 😉


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