Have you tried paper piecing? Better yet, have you tried freezer paper piecing? Both are a great way to get precise results for projects that are:
- super detailed
- have wonky shapes and angles
- lots of little bits
- all of the above
Paper piecing is when a pattern is printed onto a paper foundation. The foundations have numbered sections where each piece of fabric goes, and the lines dividing the sections are where the seams join the pieces together. With the printed side up, the fabric for the block is placed underneath following the numbers printed on the foundation. There are two types of paper piecing, but more on that later!
If you are printing out your own foundations rather than using pre-printed ones, make sure your pieces print out to the exact measurements or else your pieces will not line up properly. My print dialog looks like this:
Print out a test unit on regular paper and then use a gridded ruler to double double check that 1-inch square is actually a true 1-inch square. In patterns where there is a combination of paper piecing and strip piecing, this is is absolutely critical!
Understanding the Pieces
Unit C, below, shows a section from one of my patterns. This block has some weird shapes that would be a pain to precision-piece with templates!
There are no seam allowances on any internal seams (marked by solid lines), so you will be cutting fabric pieces at least 1/2″ larger than the space you wish to cover. After you sew the seam, you will trim your seam allowance down to 1/4″.
The outer perimeter of the unit is marked by a dashed line, to show that this is trimmed and not sewn. This is where two units are joined together by sewing a seam along the solid line.
So how the heck do you sew something like this?? What are the big differences between the methods? It all comes down to the papers you pick.
Method 1: Paper Piecing with “Regular” Paper
In this method, papers are used once then torn away after the block or quilt top is finished. Papers can be anything from standard copy paper to newsprint and specialty foundation papers.
After preparing your foundation papers, “audition” your fabric by placing it underneath the paper.
With the printed side of the paper up, place the first fabric piece right-side down. Place the second fabric piece underneath that, right sides together, so that there is a littler overlap at the first seam line, which is the solid black line between sections 1 and 2.
Using a shorter stitch length (I like 1.8 or thereabouts), begin sewing about 1/2″ before the actual seam line and continue sewing along the line and through the paper about 1/2″ past the end.
Finger press the second piece of fabric open, and double check that it covers the area and leaves enough for a seam allowance for the next seam (the solid black line between sections 2 and 3).
Holding it up to a light source such as a window or a light board can be really helpful.
When you’re satisfied that all is well, fold the paper along the seam line and trim the rough edges down to 1/4″.
I like to use the Add-A-Quarter Ruler because I find the little lip makes it fast and easy to line up along the edge.
You can also use a gridded ruler and do the same thing. It also doesn’t have to be a perfect edge because the seam is already in, so feel free to chop that extra off with scissors if you want.
Press open, and repeat these steps until there are no more spaces to cover.
Using a gridded ruler, line up the interior solid perimeter line at the first 1/4″ mark and trim off the excess.
You can tear off the papers now, or wait until after the whole top is pieced.
Method 2: Using Freezer Paper
Personally, I dislike the waste of all the paper that gets torn away using Method 1. I also dislike the the huge mess and the finicky left-behind bits that have to be picked out. And when I say “dislike”, I mean “gives me the screaming willies”. Freezer paper doesn’t have any of those issues, and actually has some extra bonuses, which I will get to.
But what is freezer paper?
Freezer paper is actually paper that has a thin sheet of plastic added on one side. The paper side is a matte, printable surface, and the shiny side is actually a thin plastic film. When exposed to heat, like from a hot, dry iron, the plastic will adhere lightly to fabric. It’s not enough to stick like glue, but enough to hold in place and then be peeled away easily. It comes in rolls (found in some grocery stores) and pack of pre-cut sheets.
The only downfall is that, to print on it you must use inkjet printers only. Putting a thin sheet of plastic through a hot laser printer will result in the plastic melting inside of your machine and destroying your laser printer, so DON’T DO IT. This should also be the point where I tell you DON’T IRON THE SHINY SIDE. All pressing is to be done on the matte side only.
The plastic doesn’t come off the paper (unless something bad happens, like ironing the plastic side), and can be reused as long as it still sticks adequately to the fabric after pressing. This can be anywhere from 10-15 times. So let’s say you have a single block and you need 42 of them. Instead of printing off 42 individual blocks on regular paper for the tear-away method above, you may only need to print off 4 or 5 on freezer paper.
Another added bonus is that, while you’re working on your block, the fabric remains “stuck” to the freezer paper, not only controlling bias edges (a frequent occurrence when paper piecing), but also controlling movement of “shifty fabrics” like linen and knits.
Let’s get to it! Paper piecing with freezer paper
After prepping your foundations and auditioning your pieces, lay out the first piece of fabric right-side down under the first section and press with a hot dry iron from the printed side.
Instead of sewing through the paper, fold the freezer paper back along the first seam line using a hard straight edge. You may need to gently release the fabric from the freezer paper along the edge, first.
Place the second fabric underneath the first, right-sides together as above. Sew the seam directly next to the folded edge, beginning 1/2″ before and ending 1/2″ after the seam line.
Unfold the foundation paper and check for accuracy. If you’re satisfied, trim the seam to 1/4″. Open up the folded paper, and press the fabric to the side along the seam from the fabric side first. I only press enough to make sure that the seam is nice and tight, and to get some of the freezer paper adhered to the second piece of fabric. Then I flip it over and finish pressing from the paper side. It’s safer that way!!
Repeat the previous steps until all the numbered sections have been covered, then trim along the dashed lines as before.
I hope this little tutorial helps you see the difference between the two types of foundation paper piecing. I’d love to know if you have tried either of these methods, or if you have any questions!This is a perfect technique for my quilt pattern Star Line!
Andrea Fleiner says
I have done freezer paper peicing like you for years and love it for exactely the same reasons. Just one more thing. With freezer paper you can also choose to press the seam allowance to the other side. Just loosen the grip of the freezer paper to piece one, press seam allowance of piece 1 + 2 under piece one and press again to reattach the freezer paper before adding the next piece.
I don’t mean you have to do this, but unlike in regular paper piecing you do have a choice.
Also, when fussy piecing you can trace a fabric motive on the dull paper side and know exactely where to place the fabric.
I Love freezer paper!
Great tips Andrea, thank you for commenting! They’re perfect for the pattern I’m releasing tomorrow, too!
Sandra Easley says
I love paper piecing & freezer paper but never knew to use them together. I can’t wait to do my next project & share this with my guild. Thanks for the tutorial.
Glad you liked it! It’s really such a useful tool, isn’t it?