11 Quilting Tips for Flawless Foundation Paper Piecing

When it comes to foundation paper piecing, some quilters are intimidated by the process. If you've given it a try and had some issues with the fabric or paper, don't fret! Paper piecing definitely takes some practice, but there are some tried-and-true methods you can utilize to help you get better at foundation piecing. Take a look at these tips to help you get on your way to successful paper piecing!


If it's your first time foundation paper piecing, great! Choose a pattern that looks simple and has 5 or 7 sections mostly facing the same direction. Save the elaborate patterns for another time, once you'd had a chance to sharpen your skills. They'll still be right there waiting for you when you're ready, and you'll be much less frustrated.

2. Pick your paper

Since you'll be sewing fabric to paper, let's talk about paper! Regular computer paper works just fine. Some quilters prefer printing directly on foundation paper, such as Carol Doak's Foundation Paper, which is strong yet easy to tear after sewing. Others like to use freezer paper sheets. But if you are using a shortened stitch length (see below), regular paper will work.

3. Pattern size matters

When you sew a foundation pieced block, you will be adding fabric directly to the back of the paper and sewing on the lines. This means your block will come out the exact same size as the paper. Therefore, it is very important to check your printer setting if you're printing a paper pieced block from your computer.

Print at 100% scale Make sure you are printing (or photocopying) at actual size. If you have the option to choose the scale, select 100% and not scaled to fit. If the pattern is large, it may print over multiple pages. That's okay! You can tape them together.

Measure to confirm Most downloadable block patterns will have a 1" square printed on them. Measure this with your quilting ruler to make sure it is actually 1". Don't forget this step, or you'll have a beautiful block that's the wrong size.

4. Color code the pattern

If your pattern doesn't have colors printed on it, grab some colored pencils and mark each section to match your fabrics! This way, you'll have that knowledge at a quick glance and can avoid using the background color for the foreground.

5. Shorten the stitch length

Set your stitch length shorter than usual when sewing through a foundation paper piecing pattern. This will perforate the paper and make it easier to pull the paper off your completed block. Most quilters suggest a stitch length between 1.2 and 1.5.

Tip: Start your sewing about 1/4" beyond the sewing line and 1/4" past it. That way, the fabrics will be joined squarely together even within the seam allowance.

6. Glue or pin fabric in place

Did you know that you can use a regular glue stick to adhere the fabric to the wrong side of your paper piecing pattern before sewing? You can also stick a sewing pin through both the fabric and paper layers to keep them from shifting, but glue works great!

7. Utilize window light or a light box

Many paper piecing patterns do not tell you how large to cut your fabric pieces. But it's no problem! Simply use the light from a window or an artificial light (like a lamp or light box) to determine the fabric size for each section. Hold up the paper pattern to the light and place a piece of fabric behind it.

Cut fabric larger than you need Make sure the fabric extends beyond the lines of any particular section by at least a half inch. When in doubt, cut your pieces larger than you think you need! Make sure to check the direction of any prints against the light source as well. For triangles and tricky shapes, cut large squares or rectangles rather than trying to mimic the shape.

After sewing, hold up your piece to the light and make sure it's completely covering the section before moving along.

8. Crease paper before sewing

When joining two side-by-side pieces of fabric, make a crease along the printed line. For example, when sewing A to B, crease the line between A and B. Then flip the paper over to the blank side, and place fabrics A and B 1/4" over this line. Pin along the stitch line to "audition" this fabric placement. Fold the fabric B back and hold up to a light source. Does it cover the section completely? Great job! If not, it's much easier to unpin your fabric rather than rip out stitches later.

9. Finger press your seams

As you move along in your pattern, you'll want to use a seam roller or your finger (I use the back of my fingernail) to flatten each seam. Some quilters use a hot iron, but if you do this, make sure to only press on the fabric side and not the printed pattern, unless you want ink on your iron.

10. Trim with care

As you move from section to section, be sure to trim the seams to 1/4" with scissors or a rotary cutter and ruler. Many quilters swear by the Add-A-Quarter ruler for this step; it has a special lip along the 1/4” marking that grabs on to the paper pattern for easy and accurate cutting.

When trimming around the other edge of a section, be sure not to cut off the seam allowance by mistake. Most patterns will have an inner line and an outer line (1/4" beyond the first). Don't trim around the inside line, or you'll cut off the seam allowance! If your pattern doesn't have a seam allowance included, you can draw your own 1/4" from the outside edge of the block.

11. Keep the paper on

After you are all done sewing your blocks and piecing them together, it's finally time to tear off the paper. Blocks will join together better if you leave the paper on! A good tip is to use a sewing pin to pick away at very tiny paper sections or to get larger sections started.

There you have it! Use these tips for better foundation paper piecing, and you’ll be on your way to more challenging quilt blocks in no time.

Berry Pie Pot Holder.JPG

Test your new foundation paper piecing skills with this fun pie-themed pot holder.

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