Foundation Paper Piecing (FPP) takes a little work to learn but once you understand the technique, you'll see that it's worth the effort. It's a popular technique among quilters because it creates accurate detail when it would be difficult to do so with traditional piecing. This tutorial is jam packed with detail to make it very clear how FPP is done. Some of the links in this tutorial help keep my coffee pot filled.
I'm very excited to be working on a series of new alphabet quilt block patterns that use FPP! The alphabet blocks can be used to add a name or message to your projects! They could also be used to make a quilt back with the quilt's information like a quilt label would.
I've also designed a series of FPP hexagon blocks that are perfect for learning this technique. They are simple but create complex, beautiful designs. The blocks can be used to make wall hangings, table runners, and quilts but would also look amazing as bags and on jackets.
How to Foundation Paper Piece
Okay, fill up your cup with some coffee or something yummy to drink and let's jump in! Read the steps and tips start to finish before starting your FPP project. You got this!
1. Use regular or light weight printer paper to print the pattern if it's a download. Be sure to print the pattern at 100% scale by checking that the printer settings set the scale to 100% not "fit to page". After printing, use a ruler to check the 1 inch guide on the pattern to be sure that the pattern has printed at the correct size.
2. When you're looking at the printed pattern, you're seeing the back of the block. This means that the blank side of the paper is the front of the block where you'll see the right side of the fabrics. *The printed pattern or back side of the block is a mirror image of the finished block.
3. When learning FPP, it is easier to use fabrics that are the same on the front and the back, meaning they do not have a right side or a wrong side. FPP is not limited to these kinds of fabrics, but they make FPP easier to learn. Most solid fabrics are the same on the front and back and are good for FPP.
4. Cut out the pattern pieces using paper scissors or a rotary cutter dedicated to paper cutting. Do not cut off the ¼” seam allowance that is included on the pattern edges. Use tape or a glue stick to combine any pieces that are printed on multiple pages. Tape may melt under a directly applied hot iron so apply tape on the printed side of the paper only.
5. In general, use the pattern in alphanumerical order as indicated on the pattern. For example, assemble all the parts of section A starting with fabric piece number 1, then 2, then 3, etc. Then assemble section B in the same manner. Then stitch sections A and B together. Then assemble section C. Then stitch section AB to section C, etc. Assembly diagrams are typically provided when a pattern deviates from this order.
6. Set up your sewing machine with a coordinating or neutral colored thread. A 50 weight thread is thin enough that it reduces bulk but is still durable. Change the stitch length to 1.5. This short stitch length makes tearing the paper off at the end easier. If available, you can use a clear presser foot or foot that increases visibility. I prefer to use my standard presser foot. Do what works best for you!
7. Pick out the first piece of fabric and ensure that it completely covers shape 1 with a ½” inch margin on all sides. As FPP becomes more familiar, a smaller margin can be used but never smaller than ¼”.
8. Secure the first piece of fabric face up (if there is a right side to the fabric) over shape 1 on the blank side of the pattern using a water soluble glue stick (I use this one). Make sure shape one is well covered with at least a 1/4" margin on all edges. Holding the paper up to a window or light box can make this easier. If it doesn't quite cover shape one, pull it off, adjust, and re-stick.
9. Flip to the printed side of the paper and fold the line between shape 1 and shape 2. Holding the edge of a plastic card such as a gift card along the line and folding the paper over it helps make precise, sharp folds. The fold can extend through the entire piece of the paper even if the line is shorter. Trim fabric 1 along the fold to ¼" using the “Add A Quarter Ruler”. This ruler has a ¼” lip on the underside that butts up against the fold of the paper making the ruler stay in place better while rotary cutting.
10. Hold the paper up to a light or window and trace shape 2 using a pencil on the blank side of the paper. Refold the paper on the line between shape 1 and 2.
11. Place the fabric for shape 2 on top of fabric 1 with the right sides together. Fabric 2 should be covering shape 2 while the paper is folded. To check that fabric 2 is in the right place, hold the paper and fabrics together then pinch along shape 2's edges and look at the front and back. Another way is to lay the fabrics and paper down with the paper side up. Then use your fingers or the edge of a plastic card to hold everything down at an edge of shape 2. Then lift the paper and fabric 1 to look underneath and see if fabric 2 is extending at least 1/4" beyond that edge. Check all the edges in the same manner, adjusting fabric 2 as needed.
12. Either pin the fabrics or continue to hold them in place and unfold the paper. With the printed side of the paper up, stitch the line between shapes 1 and 2 starting with a few backstitches. If this line goes into another shape, stitch to that shape then backstitch. If there is not another shape, stitch to the edge of the paper and backstitch. Backstitching at the beginning and end of each line keep the seam in when the paper is removed. If you stitch a little into another shape, don't pick it out, it's fine. Trim threads.
13. Briefly, flip fabric 2 and the paper up and check that fabric 2 completely covers shape 2. Then flip them both back to where they were. With the paper side up, trim the seam to ¼” using the Add a Quarter Ruler butted up against the fold of the paper.
14. Unfold the paper and flip fabric 2 up over the stitching. With gentle traction on fabric 2, press the seam from the fabric side using a dry iron. Pressing from the paper side may result in the ink transferring to your iron and then onto your fabric. Using steam with FPP will affect the integrity of the paper. Gentle traction on fabric 2 while pressing will help keep the seam flat. Of course you can avoid an iron here by rolling your seam flat with this amazing seam roller.
15. Repeat steps 8-14 with the remaining shapes. If there is excess fabric getting it the way, roughly trim it off.
16. Using a ruler and rotary cutter, trim the block along the ¼” inch seam allowance which is the outer line of the pattern piece.
17. If the pattern includes several sections to be paper pieced, complete them. Then stitch the sections together, right sides together, in order as described in step 5 or according to the assembly diagram if applicable. Pay attention to any spots that need to match when stitching them together. I like to baste these areas first before stitching the seam to check that they match when sewn.
18. Remove the paper using the point of a seam ripper (my favorite one) and tweezers as needed.
19. After the paper is removed, pressing can be done from both sides of the fabric with steam. Press the seams from step 17 open or to one side as needed to reduce bulk.
• If you accidentally cut the paper, tape it back together.
• If you accidentally used a piece of fabric that is too small, use a seam ripper to remove it and replace it with a larger piece.
• If you get ink on your iron, try ironing a used dryer sheet to remove it. If that does not work, allow the iron to cool then clean the ink off with rubbing alcohol and a paper towel.
• If the fabric pieces are too small, the seams can rip out when the paper is removed. It is vitally important to keep the margins of fabric around each shape.
• To remember what color goes where in your design, use a pencil to write the colors on the printed side of the paper.
• Removing the paper is an important step (and sometimes the most fun!). When the paper is removed, the piece becomes soft and pliable again.
• If you're making a lot of the same block, use the assembly line method to speed it up, meaning do the same step on all the blocks at once. Then do the next step for all the blocks, etc.
Try out some simple foundation paper piecing using these downloadable block patterns.