Beginning Paper Piecing Lessons Learned

I was a reluctant paper piecer, but since joining in IG HoneyBees (Instagram beehive group) it was forced upon me.  Here it is only June and so far two queen bees have chosen a paper pieced block.  This was not our first foray into this method of stitching as we’ve been around a long time.  We watched Eleanor Burns before YouTube was even a glint in anyone’s eye, thank you very much.  You might say it’s not our first rodeo.

Paper Piecing – the Early Years

We did paper piecing so long ago it was before they made cameras.  Just kidding but it was before blogs and possibly even before Al Gore invented the internet. <wink>  I cannot share a picture of our first PP project, nor can I even recall what it might have been.  Actually, I think it was a Hunter Star block using hunter green fabric coupled with a lovely beige.  The project never was finished although the fabric and papers may still be in a closet somewhere??  If we ever get to the bottom and back of that closet, you’ll be the second third person to know about it!

Paper Piecing – the Blocks

Are you wondering which blocks have been paper pieced so far?  The first block would be for Mary, called Treasure Hunt.  Another Bee member already warned us that she is selecting this block for her month as well (September, I believe).  The left photo shows how easy this paper piecing first assignment was.  Mary requested that we leave the paper on when we sent the pieces to her which made this project even easier!  No annoying paper removal; I didn’t know or recall how sweet that request was at the time.

In the right photo is a portion of the Wanta Fanta block.  Each little quarter section has only two seams which should make it a snap.  Matching it to the other portions of the overall block was stressful.  Both of these blocks led me to this compilation post.  These two WF blocks have been sent on their merry way to Sherry, although I have renamed them WF blocks from H.  WFH for short – HAHA (not WTH).

Wanta blocks finished

Paper Piecing Tips From Friends

I gathered these tips from friends as I shared my frustration(s) with paper piecing.  Some may also be from personal experience . . . perhaps.

  • Tweezers!  Find yours BEFORE you attempt to remove any papers or you will be mentally cursing yourself for not being able to find them (personal experience)
paper piecing tweezer

Couldn’t find mine anywhere but choose a slanted-tip version if possible to get in tight corners!

  • Set your stitch length to something very short (1.0 for example)
  • Mary says not quite that short of a stitch length just in case you have to rip something out – 1.0 is too tiny!
  • Press without steam to avoid any stretching
  • Press the seams open, if possible
Wanta pressing open

Seams pressed open – trying to remove too thick paper – uggg!

  • A dab of Elmer’s (SCHOOL) glue holds and stabilizes, plus it washes out easily
  • Or a glue stick which might be a bit less messy!
  • Use oversized pieces of fabric and trim all four sides once everything is pieced
PP pressing

Paper piecing strips longer than needed – also pressing without steam after each additional section

  • Spring for the lighter, less dense newsprint paper or that designed for paper piecing as general printer paper is TOO darn thick and heavy (personal experience)
  • Shirley says she uses old magazine pages to stitch on – she says they tear easily
  • You’ll need a designated “paper piecing” needle and rotary cutter blade now because the paper will dull them very quickly.  Label them somehow or you’ll forget why they are segregated – and who likes segregation anyway?! (possible probable personal experience!)
  • Karla suggests writing the fabric size on the template BEFORE making the copies needed
  • Sew on the solid/darker lines, trim on the dashed/lighter ones!  Also, sew a stitch beyond the solid line at the beginning and end – I also backstitched to keep the stitches from pulling out.

Wanta B

  • A quarter-inch ruler may be helpful, but ALL rulers clearly mark that increment
PP trimming

Ruler is ON the stitch line – trimming to 1/4″ is easy

  • Pre-fold on (or very near) the stitching lines!  It takes a little effort to do this – a wonderful activity for a Saturday evening – but it sure assists with the trimming to 1/4″ seam allowance AND paper removal.  Naysayers skip this step so decide for yourself though I would definitely continue to until I achieve “pro” status (HAHA!)
PP pattern

Pattern creased well before stitching makes it easier to see what you’re doing!

  • Karen says she uses a heavy piece of cardstock paper for a nice strong edge for the add-a-quarter ruler to line against when folding the paper back for trimming
  • Karla uses a dart tracing wheel alongside a ruler to pre-fold the stitching lines
  • Mary uses an inexpensive metal ruler to get a crisp, sharp folded edge
  • Use a basting stitch if you are unsure of points matching up
  • Allow plenty of time for the completion of one block when you’re new.  This is not a quick 10-minute sew and go.  (Don’t drag your feet either when a deadline is approaching – personal experience!)
  • Check into the freezer paper technique for PP – it offers no papers to remove – sweet!

Add Your Tips?

The jury is out as to whether we will continue to grow an affection for paper piecing.  Depending on the day and how good and strong my memory is will decide my answer to the question:  will you paper piece again anytime soon?  Beyond September that is.  I’d love to add any tips I’ve missed to the list above if you would leave them in the comments.  I’ll update this post so that I read ALL of the tips BEFORE my next paper piecing experience.  Perhaps it will be pleasant then since I’ll avoid the pitfalls.



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11 Responses

  1. Get a Hera marker; it works great for creasing the paper to fold it back. I use mine for paper piecing, and also for marking quilt lines. It’s one of my favorite tools. Here’s the tweezers I use. With it’s angle and pointed tip, it’s really easy to get those bitsy pieces of paper out.

  2. That’s interesting that you had difficulty using regular copy paper for paper piecing. That’s all I use, but then again, I buy mine from Walmart, and it’s probably not super good quality paper—but works great for paper piecing! A sharp folded edge is key for me in placing my next piece, and I swear by my inexpensive metal ruler to help me get that sharp edge. I would suggest that you use closer to a 1.5 stitch length for paper piecing. It makes it easier to tear out an errant seam than 1.0 and still is tight enough to be able to easily (more or less!) rip the paper off. Take care, Mary.

  3. Roseanne, as usual you had me laughing from the first paragraph! You distilled a myriad of tips and techniques in that list of yours. The only thing I have to add is a word of caution … I find it difficult to paper-piece when doing a bee quilt. When I’ve done paper-piecing patterns for my guild, I always print the pieces out and distribute them to participants. Why? Everyone’s printer is calibrated a little bit differently, so it’s helpful if the pattern everyone works from is printed from the same machine to avoid annoying discrepancies.

  4. dezertsuz says:

    I have no tips. I don’t paper piece in the usual sense.

  5. Shirley Clark says:

    They’re looking great! I’ve only been working on a string quilt, but I had saved some old Birds and Blooms magazines so I’m using those pages. They tear really easy.

  6. Love all your tips. I follow some on your list and I forget some – especially designated blades for paper-piecing and remembering which blades were designated for what :-). I want to try the freezer paper method that lets you reuse the templates. Google it and you’ll find lots of blog posts and videos on it.

  7. quiltinggail says:

    I agree with Kathleen – about the add a quarter ruler. Wouldn’t pp without it! And, horror of all horrors, I pp without sewing on the paper – so no tweezers required! 🙂
    Happy Quilting & pp! 🙂

  8. Brenda Ackerman says:

    Hello Roseanne, You have shared some excellent tips! I love the results of paper piecing but also hate having to remove the paper. Someone quite a long time ago, recommended using a very light one sided interfacing as the paper. You draw your pattern and do not do any ironing, unless you want to along the way, until the very end of the block and ensure that it is done correctly. Another method that I have been reading about, but have not tried yet, is where you fold back the paper and sew the materials together like there was a line there. I hope that makes sense. Many paper piecers are using this technique now and say that they really enjoy it. I hope that you have an absolutely magnificent weekend! Loads of smiles and hugs being sent to you!!!

  9. Great post! I use a dart tracing wheel alongside a ruler to pre-fold the stitching lines. Also I write the size fabric needed for each section on my template before making copies.

  10. Tu-Na Quilts says:

    Along with using my add a quarter ruler, I use a heavy piece of cardstock to give me a nice strong edge so that ruler sits upon when I turn my paper back for trimming after sewing on a piece.

  11. I love my add a quarter rulers. It seems silly but it does make it easier to trim them down!

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