my paper-piecing process

i sewed another block from the paper-pieced home this afternoon.


strawberry print sauce pan!

this time i took a few photos along the way so i could write about my process for making these, & a few little tricks i’ve learned. note that i am far from some kind of paper-piecing wizard. but i might have something helpful to impart to people who brand new to this kind of sewing.

first i decide what fabrics i want to use. i just love these vintage market strawberry prints, so i decided to use the yellow colorway as the accent design. i picked up the aqua flowers in that print with a solid aqua fat quarter, & used the same black print i used for the handle of the paper-pieced take-out container for the handle, rim, & knob on the sauce pan. i decided i wanted some kind of red for the background because i’m trying to use a different background color on each group of blocks. there are seven kitchen blocks in the book, & i’ve already used blue, yellow, orange, gray, & pink. the only block left after this is a fruit bowl, & obviously i’ll be using red for some of the fruit, so i went with a red background here. it also picks up the red of the strawberries. i had quite a bit of red to choose from, but went with this print because it’s pretty large (in contrast to the small prints of the strawberries & the black) & to again challenge myself to do a bit of print-matching.

so. once i’ve picked out my fabrics & pressed them (it’s easier to cut & stitch precisely with fabric that is already pressed), i print out two copies of my pattern.


i label each section on both patterns with the fabric i will be using for it. i tried to wing it & did not do this with my first take-out container block & i wound up sewing the wrong fabric to the wrong section at least three times. i tried labeling only the pattern i’m going to cut apart to measure the fabric with another block, but some of the sections are tiny & easy to lose, & at one point, i thought i’d lost a little scrap of cut fabric & went ahead & cut & sewed a new one…& then realized i’d used the wrong fabric. so. now i double the failsafes to make sure i’m using the right fabric by labeling both patterns.

on the pattern i am using as a sewing guide, i draw a line all around the outside edges to remind myself not to cut down the seam allowances there.

the other pattern is a cutting guide. i make a notation (usually just a line) on every single piece indicating where it has its initial join to the foundation block. then i cut the whole thing apart, every single tiny piece, & sort them by fabric.

one fabric at a time (instead of one pattern section at a time–this block used five sections), i use a little dab of fabric gluestick to affix each pattern guide to the fabric, making sure to leave generous seam allowances all around. sure, you can just cut fabric as you go, but a lot of paper-piecing patterns use angled lines & i always struggle with cutting the angles right to make sure i’m covering the whole block with a big enough seam allowance. the fastest way to fuck up a paper-piecing project is to make the seam allowances too small. you need to cut enough fabric to cover the entire section with a quarter-inch seam allowance all around. rough-cutting with a pattern guide makes this way easier, with the bonus that you can take this opportunity to make sure directional prints are going the way you want, & making some effort at pattern-matching if you like.

to make sure all your angles are correct, remember to affix the WRONG side of the paper to the WRONG side of the fabric. this is crucial! otherwise you’re just wasting all this prep work!

here’s what it looks like with pattern guides affixed to the fabric:


my favorite trick: like i said, i mark the pattern guides on the seam that will be attached to the foundation fabric. i cut that edge of the fabric down to exactly 1/4″ & rough cut the rest. that way i know i’m getting the angles exactly right on directional fabrics. i’ve also tried cutting with a 1/4″ seam allowance all around right from the start, but that requires a lot of precision when piecing all the little bits together. so now i just trim the other seam allowances after i sew. that’s an easier way of getting exact seam allowances.


rough-cut fabric, ready to be pieced!

so. then i piece piece piece. i like to piece all the sections of a pattern at once & trim & press in batches. it’s just faster compared to getting up to trim & press every single seam as it is sewn. & since everything is labeled, there’s no confusion about which fabric goes where. i use a microtex needle & a 1.4 stitch length. a really tiny stitch length perforates the paper & makes it easier to tear away after the block is done, without ripping out the stitches. i’m also using off-white fabric for all my piecing. with my first few paper-piecing projects, i saw them as an opportunity to use up bits & bobs & random thread left over from other projects, but that just looks shitty if any stitches are visible in the final project (which will happen if you don’t stitch EXACTLY–& i mean EXACTLY– over your foundation stitching as you add new pieces. so now i just use a thread color that more or less blends. problem solved.


as i piece, i only trim down the seam allowances where another piece of fabric is going to be joined. i don’t trim the fabric overhanging the outside of the section yet. this is what the sections look like once everything is sewn & pressed, but not yet trimmed.


this is what my block looks like with all the sections joined, but not yet trimmed to size.


& the back. i pulled the paper that was abutting the final seam because it was getting in the way of pressing, but i try to leave as much as i can as a guide for trimming down to size.

the final size for this block was, i think, 5″ by 7″. that’s the size the block would be once sewn into a project (a quilt, a pillow, a bag, whatever). that means the unfinished size should be 5.5″ by 7.5″, so there’s a 1/4″ seam allowance all around. using the edges of the patterns, easily identified by the lines i marked at the beginning, as a rough guide, i trimmed down my block & voila! all done!

Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

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