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July 20, 2012
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foundation paper piecing

Hello all, Mary Ellen here.

I am getting back to some serious sewing time. I’ve taken a bit of a break for about 3 weeks now where I have only sewn a little bit here and there. Now it’s back to my usual mode-several hours each day at the machine. Some of it is sewing for my part-time job making samples or preparing for lessons I’ll teach, some is working on my own pattern pieces to sell, some is for myself (or friends or family). Generally I love it but it’s been nice also stepping back a bit to spend more time at other interests I have.

I’ll soon be teaching a class to paper foundation piecing beginners. I am working on my notes. Is it just me or is this technique one that needs demonstration much more than written instruction? I’m finding even in notes for myself to refer to, diagrams are much better than words. I have referred to several books I own to see how other folks have explained it, and they too use lots of pictures. Of course over the years that I have enjoyed this technique I have picked up bits and pieces from many “expert” techniques. These directions I am trying to write could go on for pages! I doubt that’s what a beginner wants to see when opening up a pattern pack. Hmm. I’ll keep at this…photos? video? diagram? paragraphs? one-liners?… What to do?

How did you learn to paper piece? If you haven’t, is it because of a bad experience with your first project? If that’s it, what can I do to help my students avoid a similar experience? If you love to paper piece, why? How or what did you learn that has made you enjoy this technique?



  1. Jackie Groszkowski says:

    I learned to paper piece by watching demos on TV. My first project was for Halloween and I made some mistakes, but it turned out okay. As for why I like to paper piece, probably the same as most people, those points are perfect!

    • Mary Ellen says:

      I think many of us who have been enjoying paper piecing for a while got hooked by the “perfect points” thing. Makes those complicated looking stars achievable with nice results.

  2. Kathy says:

    I like the finished paper piecing product because all of the points, angles, etc line up perfectly. My problem with it is twofold. 1. I print the patterns on an inkjet printer and it tends to leave ink smudges on the fabric which are quite difficult to remove. 2. Even after wetting the paper, tearing it off seems to loosen my stitches. I receiced several suggestions to change the stitch length.

    • amqg14228 says:

      Kathy, I am curious how do you get ink smudges on your fabric? Isn’t the ink on the OTHER side (not the side where fabric is)? Does it happen during pressing? If pressing (heat from the iron) is the problem, maybe you can use that little “wooden iron” stick, or the wall paper roller to press your seams as you go. Also, you really shouldn’t have to wet the paper in order to tear it away…Definitely a good idea to use smaller stitches – if your normal size is 2.5, go to 1.5 at least – it really helps a lot. Another thing that can help – “score” the paper, right on the seam-line with dull seam ripper, old stiletto (or something like that) and it should come off much easier. Another important thing is, when you are tearing away paper from the piece at the edge of the block (in other words, where your stitches can come apart), hold the very edge with the thumb of the other hand while starting to pull that paper off – that prevents the stitches from coming undone at the edge. Hope this sounds reasonably clear…But I can also show you all this next time I see you! 🙂 Marija

    • Mary Ellen says:

      Hi Kathy, I echo some of Marija’s comments/hints to help you out. Inkjet printer ink is water soluble so only wet your paper as a last resort to avoid the ink smudge problem. Make sure you fold those sewing lines to get nice sharp creases-that will help with the tearing of the paper. I also give a GENTLE tug on opposite corners of the block before beginning to tear away the paper. If you have shortened your stitches so the paper is perforated, the tug will often “pop” a lot of the perforations to begin the tearing for you. Make sure you have started and stopped a couple of stitches before the exact seam line so if you lose a stitch or two while tearing, they aren’t crucial construction stitches.

  3. Marija says:

    Oh, I so know how you feel Mary Ellen! Have been teaching paper-piecing for a while and still thinking how to change or improve the class handout…BUT – I find exactly what you said – it is BEST for them to just do it, with me, several times (if needed) and then it just ”sinks in” I guess. So, I make pre-cut little kits for a simple block (small flower block from that wreath I just posted on my blog), and I demonstrate the technique on one of them and then students can go ahead and make them too. Some make two or three till they are confident they know how to do it. Then they start on their own project if there is time (this is ONE 3h class), but they go home with a sheet with general guide-lines, complete instructions for that wreath and additional foundation patterns to complete it – it seems to work well!

  4. Rebecca says:

    I would love to learn paper piecing. Gotta get to a

    • Mary Ellen says:

      Hi Rebecca, We had talked a while back about having some classes for our members-free or cheap. We need to return to that idea. One thing that threw in a monkey wrench was finding a convenient place to hold classes in evenings or weekends when the museum isn’t available, which would let us use space for free or for cheap. The number of outlets at such a spot might be of concern too. Keep bringing up this idea, til we get moving!

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