Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gwyned's Paper Piecing Tutorial

Leah is giving us a week off to practice what we have learned about free motion quilting on a UFO. You may recall I don't have any UFO's. I thought I might I try my hand at free form curve piecing some small quilts to practice on. It soon became clear that that genius idea was going to be far to time consuming if I was I also going to stay on schedule for the quilt I am currently working on. So, instead, I have opted to share Gwyned's Paper Piecing Tutorial.

by Gwyned Trefethen
64"H x 48" W
Paper Pieced

I have had a love hate relationship with paper piecing ever since I first gave it a go over 15 years ago. What I hate about it is:

  1. Getting the fabric scraps the right size;
  2. Orienting the scraps correctly so there is sufficient seam allowance;
  3. Avoiding fabrics with obvious direction; and
  4. Removing all those scraps of paper after everything has been seamed together.
What I love about paper piecing:

  1. The precision;
  2. The ability to piece together atypical angles; 
  3. It suits my hyper organized personality; and
  4. The precision.
It is the precision that has me coming back again and again. What can I say? I get a thrill out of seeing all those crisp, sharp points and precise, complex "Y" seams come together so nicely. Just like free motion machine quilting, paper piecing requires practice and more practice, coupled with experimentation to work out a system that works for you. This is what works for me. It isn't the right way, just my way.

I am currently working on quilt that has four paper pieced blocks and I am making each of them five times. When I make multiple blocks that are all colored and pieced the same way I piece them simultaneously. In other words I seam piece 1 and piece 2 together for Block A five times. By repeating what I have just sewn I avoid forgetting how to do it.

Freezer Paper Tracing Layered on Top of Paper Piecing Foundation

I begin by hand tracing the paper pieced block pattern for the block on freezer paper. I note the Block (in this case Block C)  the segment of the block, the fabric to be cut and the number representing the order that it will be pieced in each piece. In other words piece C1 - 1 - b means that this piece is the first piece in segment 1 of Block C and the b stands for the "b"lue background fabric.

Freezer Paper Templates Laid Out and Ironed to the WRONG Side of Fabric 

The next step is to cut apart the freezer paper block and divide the paper pieces into piles by fabric. This means I set all the pieces that are to be cut from the blue background fabric in one pile, those that are to be cut from the white batik in another, etc.

Since I am making five of these blocks I save time by layering five pieces of the blue background fabric,  laying out all the freezer paper templates that are to be used to cut pieces from the blue background fabric on the top layer and then adhering the freezer paper templates to the top layer by ironing them place. It is VERY IMPORTANT to be sure that when you lay out the freezer paper templates you leave sufficient room for the seam allowance between adjacent pieces. My rule of thumb is leave between 3/4" - 1" channel between pieces. ALSO the freezer paper is ironed to the WRONG SIDE of the fabric.

The advantages of cutting your fabric in advance this way is that helps insure that there will be sufficient fabric for each piece. Pieces are such odd shapes in paper piecing compared to traditional piecing that it is easy to short change yourself.

Cut the Pieces Apart

Once all the freezer paper templates are ironed in place it is time to cut out the pieces. This is not the time to trim exactly. The goal is to have at least a 1/4" seam allowance surrounding each piece, but more is always better.

Be Sure to Leave a Generous Seam Allowance

Now that all of the pieces have been cut, I organize the pieces by segments. Note, I only work on one block pattern at a time. Block C has four segments. So, there are four segment piles of pieces. Each pile is in numerical order by piece with the five Piece 1s at the top and the last stack of pieces to be pieced at the bottom. I know which pile is which, because I top each pile with the paper piecing segment pattern I will be using as the foundation.

Piles of Cut Fabric Organized by Segment and Order Sewn

Next I take Pieces 1 and Pieces 2 and using the segment foundation pattern determine which sides will be seamed together. I trim the seam allowance to be exactly 1/4". The picture shows how these two pieces "match up."

Alignment of Piece 1 and Piece 2

I go one step further and I snip registration marks at the beginning and ending of the seam. This way when I flip the pieces right sides to right sides I have the marks to orient the two pieces together and to orient the pieces to foundation line. HINT - hold the paper foundation up to the light in order to see where to place the pieces.

N.B. The Registration Snips!

Now I sew along the first seam line using smaller than normal stitches. The more times you perforate the paper the pattern the easier it is to remove at the end. However, you want to avoid perforating it so many times that the foundation falls apart before you are ready. On my Bernina a stitch length of 1.5 to 1.75 seems to be right.

Align Index Card with Seam Line

Then Fold! 

I am not sure where I picked up this trick, perhaps Carol Doak, but I find it helpful to fold my paper foundation over an index card versus just folding it at the next seam line. Then I trim that seam allowance to 1/4". However, when I am paper piecing itty bitty pieces I use 1/8" as my seam allowance.

Ruler Alignment Used to Create 1/4" Seam Allowance

Drop back in a couple of months and I will unveil what I was making to create this tutorial. For now it must remain top secret. Otherwise, I would have shared a bit more - such as photo of the completed block. Any guesses what I am making?


  1. Oh wow, oh wow! Entwined is one gorgeous quilt!!!!

  2. Oh Gwyned ~ you are so talented :) Thanks for sharing your tutorial :) And I am so glad for you having "NO" UFO's. I hope to be able to say that by years end :)

  3. Thank you, Pat. Entwined is a personal favorite of mine. It was this quilt that convinced me I needed to master the art of machine quilting a "large" quilt. Ultimately I opted to buy a George (APQS's sit-down machine with a 20" throat.) I do most of Leah's exercises on the Bernina, but prefer to do crib size or larger work on the George.

    Can't Stop Stitching - there were several decades when I had whole stash of UFOs. When I moved, two years ago, I threw them all out. So, so glad I did. They might have come in handy for Quilting Along with Leah, but they lurked there like dust bunnies under the bed - you couldn't see them, knew they were there and felt they needed to be taken care of.

    Hope you found the tutorial helpful.

  4. Entwined IS gorgeous! I would say judging on your pattern its a bird. maybe a crow? Am I hot or cold? The only UFO's I have are actually WIP's, and one is a BOM the other is a BG, LOL(Baby Gift)I am working on. I get to nervous if I have to many unfinished projects so I think I will leave UFO's in outer space!

  5. Danielle, you are warm - it is a bird, just not a crow. I agree with your feelings about UFOs. There is enough hanging over my head that I want to get done without more stuff in my studio nagging at me.

  6. Entwined is beautiful, the background creates a very cool visual effect. Thanks for the paper piecing tips! I haven't tried it yet but the freezer paper approach makes it seem a little bit less scary.

  7. Thank you, MC. True, paper piecing can be quite daunting. I've made my share of false starts and start overs in this genre. This is precisely why I thought I would share some of what I have found or invented to make it easier on me.

  8. I know what you mean about paper piecing....I hate the pulling out the paper afterwards process. Said I'd never do another one but......oh's another one in my stash of projects!

    Thanks for sharing your process - your work is amazing.

  9. And thank you, Kris, for your kind words. Do I detect some PP in your avatar?