Foundation Paper Piecing, Step-by-Step

I gave a little presentation at the Wichita Modern Quilt Guild last night to teach everyone how to foundation paper piece. I know lots of people in the Farmer’s Wife Quilt Along also are interested in learning – so here’s my tutorial. If you have questions or need a little bit more help, please don’t hesitate to contact me!
I am using this free pattern to make the block.

1. Print out (or make copies of) your paper pattern. You can use the special Carol Doak Foundation Paper, or regular printer/copy paper. I have found that while Carol Doak’s paper is nice to sew on it’s a nightmare in my laser printer. If I had a printer I could feed a page at a time into, I’d probably use the special paper. Make sure you have all the copies you need for each block – for example the Circle of Geese Block takes 4 paper patterns to make one 12 inch block.
2. Set your sewing machine to a shorter stitch. For me, this means going from 2 down to 1 – it may vary depending on the type of machine you have. This causes the needle to go through the paper more, which makes it easier to remove the paper at the end.
3. Set up your work area – you’re going to be cutting after every seam you sew, so having a small cutting mat and rotary cutter nearby is really nice. I use a 6×8 cutting mat, a 28mm rotary cutter, the add-a-quarter ruler, a postcard and half of a wooden clothespin (for finger pressing). Get all your fabric bits nearby too, so you are ready to go.
4. Find #1 on your pattern. Get a piece of fabric that covers the entire #1 area and pin it to the BACK of the paper, with the right side of the fabric up. I frequently hold the paper up to the light when lining up the fabric so I can see the pattern lines through the paper.

5. Find #2 on your pattern. Get a piece of fabric that covers the entire #2 area. Line it up in the right place with the #1 fabric so that when you sew your seam and iron the pieces open it will cover the #2 area. Place your #2 fabric piece right sides together with your #1 fabric piece. Pin in place. (using a lot of solids make this much easier!) Remember to pin piece #2 so that you sew it and then press it open (from piece #1) to cover the #2 spot on the pattern.
6. Turn the whole thing over, making sure your fabric stays flat on the back (don’t let it get folded under or bunched up). Sew on the line joining piece #1 and piece #2.
7. Trim your seam before ironing. Place a postcard on the printed side of the pattern. Line it up along the line you just sewed and fold the paper over the postcard, exposing your seam (the postcard keeps your line very straight). If you have an add a quarter ruler, use it here, otherwise using your regular quilter’s ruler, line it up so you trim your exposed seam to ¼”.

*same step with a regular quilting ruler –

8. Iron the #2 piece open. In the same way you trimmed the seams, trim each edge of the #2 piece so it extends ¼” beyond each pattern line. If it is a piece on the edge, this is not necessary. You will trim the edges at the very end.
9. Find #3 on the pattern. Repeat steps 5-8 for #3.

*I don’t iron every single piece – that would be a lot of up and down and would take forever. I use half of a wooden clothespin to finger press the seams and take the piece to the ironing board every 3 or 4 seams.

10. Do this for each additional number in the block (for example, Circle of Geese has 9 pieces in the block).
11. Make any additional block components (Circle of Geese has 4 6” blocks that make up the final 12” block). Some blocks have multiple odd shaped pieces within the block that will be lettered (A,B,C,etc.).
12. When you have made all the pieces for your block, you have a choice to make. You can remove all the paper before stitching the pieces together or, you can leave the paper on and remove it at the end once your block is sewn together. Leaving paper on gives you nice seam lines to follow, but can get bulky. I prefer removing the paper first, then stitching block components together. Removing paper is easy – just start at and edge and pull it off. For small pieces, you can use tweezers if the paper is not coming off easily.

If you plan to do only several blocks, you might still invest in the add a quarter ruler. It is an awesome tool for foundation paper piecing. For really tiny work, there is also an add an eighth ruler.
If you print patterns on the back of junk paper that already has printing on it, beware, a hot iron can spread ink around and make a mess of your fabric.
Start with big pieces. As you get more comfortable with the process, you can use more carefully cut pieces and have less waste. In the beginning though, go big to avoid frustration and mistakes.
In many cases if you sew on a piece and it’s too small, you can just add another piece to cover the area and continue. You will have an extra seam, but in my opinion it’s usually better than picking out those tiny stitches!

Finished look after fixing that oops…

Additional resources –

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8 Responses to Foundation Paper Piecing, Step-by-Step

  1. Jan says:

    Thank you for this great tutorial. I’ve done some paper piecing but this will really help me to get my blocks to turn out well.

  2. Thank you so much for the tutorial. I have ordered both the Farmer’s Wife book and the Add a Quarter Inch ruler as I would love to paper-piece all the blocks. I might change my mind after a few blocks but I will see how I go.

    • Chris says:

      Check the yahoo group for the paper piecing templates, and let me know if you have any questions. I think you will love the ruler!

  3. Becky says:

    I love paper-piecing because I get such professional results! Someone on a mailing list suggested using the less expensive Crayola drawing pads (or similar newsprint pads). I’ve had great luck with those, too.

  4. Toni Fairman says:

    I have purchased the farmers wife book & companion cd. I have eq 5 but I don’t know how to print the paper piece patterns off of the cd. I have done several blocks from the book, but i would much rather paper piece so i got the cd. I know there is someting i am not doing but i can’t figure this out. Can anyone help? when i put the cd in it just shows a read me page there has to be something else what am i missing?



    • Chris says:

      Do you mean the CD from the book or you bought the extra additional CD (so now you have two)? The CD from the book only has templates, not paper piecing instructions. I did not buy the additional CD – I have EQ7 and heard it did not work well with it. I got my paper piecing patterns via the yahoo group for the Farmer’s Wife Sampler Quilt.

      Have you read the read me page that comes up? Maybe it has instructions? Or there might be instructions on the CD itself, or on the packaging? Sorry I am not being more help.

  5. Jeri says:

    What a great tutorial. Thanks!

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