Hi, and welcome to week 1 of Foundation Paper Piecing For The Terrified (or FPPFTT ;o) )

Foundation Paper Piecing For The Terrified Button

I’ve had so many readers expressing their horror at the very idea of paper piecing, that I thought I’d try and de-mystify it a bit :o)

For our first block, we’re going to be creating a simple courthouse steps block, please click here for the template.

I’m going to start with a couple of questions that came in the comments over the last few days to the announcement posts.

1. Annabella asked why we couldn’t just piece this block the regular old way.  Well, we could, in fact you could piece any foundation paper piecing block the regular old way (the reverse is not true though, without introducing additional seams, as foundation paper piecing and curves and Y seams are not friends).  The whole point of foundation piecing is to provide you with a stable platform to work on, which is especially good for small pieces of fabric, and for odd shaped pieces of fabric.  The advantage over regular piecing is that you get very precise seams, and nice sharp points.  If you look at the centre square of the pattern you printed out for this week, you’ll see that it’s 1″ square – whilst not impossible to piece something that small, the chances of it shifting around a lot are high.

2. Marg was a little worried about the sacrificial pins and needles.  No, we’re not taking up voodoo as well, it’s just that in the same way as you don’t use your best fabric cutting scissors/rotary cutter for cutting paper, you equally don’t use your nice sharp pins and needles on paper either.  I would suggest putting aside a needle and some pins just for use with paper piecing

Okay, now on with the show!

For best practice, I would suggest you print out 3 copies of the template – 1 as a reference, the 2nd as the foundation base and the 3rd as your cutting guide.  As this block is all done in one go, you could probably forgo your reference version, but later down the line when we get to the complex sectional patterns, you will definitely need that reference one!

At this point I write on each section of the pattern what fabric I’m going to be using – trust me, this saves a lot of headaches down the line, especially when dealing with lots of tiny pieces!  Remember though that what you will sew will be a mirror image of the pattern as it faces you…

For your foundation base piece, simple cut the square pattern piece out.  For your cutting guide, you will need to cut out each individual section – I use a craft knife and metal ruler on this part, simply for speed, but scissors will work just fine.

Now grab the fabric you want to use.  You can use scraps, but make sure that each scrap is AT LEAST 1/2″ bigger on ALL sides of the pattern piece.

Take the cutting guide for piece one and place it on your fabric. I use the handy 1/2″ line on my ruler to trim the fabric down so that it is 1/2″ larger all round.  Regardless off the shape of the piece, I always do this, as I have found that grabbing a random piece that’s bigger than your pattern piece and *should* fit, as soon as you move away from a square or a rectangular pattern piece, you spend an inordinate amount of time scratching your head trying to work out how to line up your scrap with the sewing line so that the entire pattern piece is covered after it’s been sewn on, not to mention inevitably spending quality time with your seam ripper and wasting quite a bit of fabric!  The reason I always use 1/2″ is that getting everything lined up when trimmed down to a 1/4″ seam allowance often leads to very short seam allowances on at least one side when stitched!

After you’ve cut all the pieces, you should have something like this.  I suggest you keep the cutting guides and fabric pieces together – although in this case you have nice regular shapes, when you get to the more complex patterns with odd shaped pieces all from the same fabric, it saves a lot of head scratching if you can immediately see which piece was cut for what.

You will have noticed that all the pattern pieces are numbered – the numbers indicate the order in which you should add the fabric to build up your pattern.

Take your foundation base pattern piece and your fabric for section 1.  Holding the paper up towards a light source so that the printing is facing towards you, line the fabric up on the back so that it evenly covers section 1 on the paper, with the fabric wrong sides together with the paper – that is the right side of the fabric will be facing the light.

Now take your fabric for section 2.  With this, you will need to place the fabric right sides together with piece 1, aligning the side edges that are parallel with the line between sections 1 and 2, then pin in place.  Note that because these are both square pieces, they will be more or less one on top of the other, with the wrong side of fabric 2 facing the light. (I’ve staggered it slightly for the photo so you can see the roses facing the linen)

Take your paper and fabric over to your sewing machine.

To set up your machine, I would suggest the following:

  • shorten your stitch length to about 1.8mm or 2mm.  By shortening the stitch length you will make it easier to tear the paper away at the end.
  • Position your needle in the centre of the foot so that you can follow the line you are sewing along easily
  • Use a walking foot if you have one – this is not compulsory, but I’ve found I don’t get slippage if I do this

Now place the paper fabric side down with the top of the line between sections 1 and 2 under the needle.  Drop the needle at the start of the line – don’t go above the line or you will cause problems for yourself when you come to add section 4.

Stitch down the line, making sure you don’t go past the end of the line.

Now take the paper to your cutting area, and using the line you just stitched as a guide, fold the paper on the right hand side over to reveal the seam allowance of the pieces you have just stitched

Using either your 1/4″ ruler mark, or your add a quarter ruler, line it up with the fold on the paper at the stitching line, and trim your seam allowance to 1/4″

Now unfold your paper again, flip it over and take your fabric from section 2, and fold open along the stitch line, then press in place

Congratulations, you’ve got your first piece added, so go ahead and grab the fabric for section 3.

Using the exact same method as for the section 2 fabric, place your section 3 fabric right sides together with your section 1 fabric so that the edges align and are parallel with the stitching line between sections 1 and 3, and pin in place (sorry this is a little fuzzy!)

Go over to your sewing machine, and stitch in the same way as for section 2, then trim your seam allowance in the same way.  By the end of the pattern, you will notice that your paper has a whole grid of folds in it corresponding to each stitching line.  Press section 3 open.

Now you’ve finished building up your base for the next section.  With foundation paper piecing, you’re always trying to create a base for the next section to be added on to, and in this case your 3 squares for sections 1-3 are the base for your rectangles 4 and 5.

Take your section 4 rectangle, and align with your section 1-3 squares, so that the edge is parallel with the line between sections 1-3 and 4.

Don’t worry if your joins between sections 1 and 2 and 1 and 3 don’t leave a perfectly straight line of squares, as long as you add your section 4 piece so that the edge is parallel with the stitching line, and is about 1/2″ away, you’ll be fine.

Stitch in place, trim and press open as per the previous sections.

From this point, just keep adding sections in numerical order until you reach the edge, which should look like this:  (please note that the alignment of the diamond pattern was a complete fluke after the first line was sewn, and then a complete nightmare to try and replicate the second time!)

Now some designers leave a 1/4″ border round the outside edge of their pattern, but I don’t tend to do this, because if I’m using sectional patterns, I like to leave the paper attached until it’s all joined together to help things to line up.  If you leave the border on, you will have to remove it before joining (note that patterns with curves between sections are an exception to this!)

Flipping your paper over trim back your edges so that they are 1/4″ from each edge of the paper.

Now the fun part, you’re going to tear all your paper pieces off!  Be gentle, so that you don’t pull any stitches out, but if you shortened your stitch length then this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Your back will now look beautifully neat:

As will your front:

Stand back and admire your fabulous job :oD

Please note that these blocks are not meant to be used to create a quilt of any kind at the end of this course, you will just have a bunch of orphan blocks to use on other things, such as this wee pouch.  If you partake in the New York Beauty QAL though, you could very well end up with a fabulous quilt :o):

One of the great things about paper piecing, is that scaling up and down is incredibly easy if you have access to a photocopier or a printer that will do larger sized sheets.  The rainbow windmill I did I scaled up to give me a 20″ cushion cover, although the original block was 12″ finished.  Feel free to have fun with it :o)

Don’t forget to post any of your creations in the Flickr gallery, and don’t forget that you can ask any questions either here or in there – although if it’s in Flickr, then everyone can share the answers :o)

Linking to:

Sew Happy Geek