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This article is the sixth in a series of beginner's guides to patchwork and quilting written by Kerry Green http://verykerryberry.blogspot.co.uk/.  If you have always wanted to make a quilt and don’t know where to start, this series of ten posts  will include instructions to make basic quilt blocks, introduce simple techniques and combine the blocks to make a small sampler quilt.  


Foundation paper piecing techniques


In this part of the Making a Quilt 10-part series, we will look at different methods to make foundation paper piecing easier. 

Many of the basics of this technique were covered here including useful equipment ideas and two detailed tutorials to make foundation paper pieced blocks using regular shapes like squares, rectangles and half square triangles.  Irregular shapes can be harder to add.  The angle of some diagonal lines can make it hard to cut a piece of fabric for the piece you wish to cover, especially as you are usually working in reverse in foundation paper piecing with the sewing taking place on the wrong side of the block. 

I think every paper piecing quilter has had the moment when the fabric is joined to the paper, opened out over the piece of pattern it is intended to cover and found it to be too small - then the tricky process of unpicking tiny stitches begins!  One way to avoid this is to use large cuts of fabric for each individual piece and trim each down to size as you sew but this can be awkward and clumsy to work with as well as being a little wasteful. 

Another method is to prepare the fabric by pre-cutting pieces using templates before sewing.  This takes a while longer but it can also save time in the long run as it’s more accurate and results in fewer mistakes.

 

Ray of Light

Foundation paper pieced block design by Kerry Green

I based this design on something I saw in my local area so I’ve called it ‘Ray of Light’.  It may well have a traditional name but if it does I don’t know it!  It has similarities to other quilt blocks like a Kaleidoscope or a Waste Not! Block. The irregular angles on the different pieces make it harder to piece than the economy square that we made here so I’m going to give you two techniques to make this block: the first uses freezer paper templates and the second uses large strips of fabric that are cut to size as they are added.  I have also included an alternative to freezer paper if you are struggling to get hold of it.

 

  Tip: Freezer paper is available from quilting and sewing shops. It tends to be the Reynolds brand and in the USA its normal use is to wrap sandwiches food etc. Freezer paper is different to greaseproof or parchment paper which is more commonly available in the UK.  Freezer paper has a shiny waxy side and a dull paper side.  It is slightly transparent so you can draw and trace on the dull side with a pencil or permanent fineliner like a Pigma Micron.  When the paper is cut out and the waxy side is placed on fabric and pressed with a hot iron, it temporarily sticks to the fabric.  The paper peels off easily leaving no residue on the fabric, and it can be reused several times making it ideal for templates, appliqué shapes and other crafty uses!

 

Method One: Freezer Paper Templates

 Finished block size, 12” square. This block is made up of four Ray of Light blocks joined together. Finished size does not include the seam allowance so the unfinished size is 12½” square.  Seam allowance is 1/4” throughout.

 

You will need

  • Four sheets of A4 printer paper.  Lightweight paper is easiest to use, e.g. 70gsm weight.
     
  • Water based glue stick e.g. Sewline glue stick or even a Pritt stick.
     
  • Freezer paper for tracing (optional).
     
  • Hera marker or a blunt smooth edged butter knife.

 
Print four copies of the Ray of Light pattern, checking that your settings are at 100% and not scaled down.  The dashed outer square measures 6½” and the solid square measures 6”.  Cut out along the dashed lines.

 
Construction

 Prepare your pattern by pre-creasing all the seam lines using a Hera marker or a blunt smooth edged butter knife and a quilt ruler.  These are the solid black lines on the pattern.
 

 Placing the shiny side of the freezer paper on top of your pattern, trace the pattern lines on to the dull side with either a sharp pencil or permanent non-bleeding fineliner like Pigma Micron.  Transfer all the markings including any numbers or letters.  Do not add the seam allowance around the outer edge of the square.   It does help to add grainline arrows on each piece (see photo) so when the template shapes are cut out, you will know which direction the grainline should be.  Cut out freezer paper templates.

Grainlines for foundation piecing

 
Tip: Following the grainline means placing templates or pattern along the straight grain - the vertical or warp threads of the fabric.  These are the stronger threads and hold their shape slightly better than the crosswise grain - the horizontal or weft threads, which have a little ‘give’, even in a non stretch fabric.  It is not essential to follow grainline when foundation paper piecing and lots of foundation piecers ignore this and use their fabrics at any orientation to create the most economical use of fabric.  I usually aim to follow the grainline as I add each piece as it makes the finished block lie flatter and avoids bias edges where you are not expecting them.  Ultimately, it’s a matter of personal choice!

 
Place template 1 on the wrong side of fabric A.  The shiny side of the freezer paper should be against the wrong side of the fabric.  Make sure there is at least ½” of extra fabric all around the edge of the template.  Using a hot iron, press the dull side of the template onto the fabric; the heat of the iron quickly melts through to the waxy side of the paper and temporarily sticks it onto the fabric.  Cut out the template leaving a ½” seam allowance all round the edge.

Freezer paper templates for patchwork

 

 Repeat for templates 2-4.

 

Peel off the freezer template from the fabric piece for piece1.  With the paper pattern upwards, position fabric under piece 1 and use a swipe of glue stick to keep it in place: the wrong side of the fabric is stuck to the wrong side of the paper.  Ensure the fabric extends over the seam lines around piece 1 by at least ¼”.

Templates for foundation piecing

 

  Place the block on a cutting mat with the paper side upwards.  Fold the paper along the pre-creased line between pieces 1 and 2: this will reveal the excess fabric (wrong side up), some of which will form the seam allowance of the next seam.  Place a quilt ruler or an Add-a-quarter ruler over the folded paper so it hangs over the edge of the paper and the fabric by 1/4" to create the seam allowance.  Use a rotary cutter to trim off the excess fabric.

Trimming a paper pieced block

 

 Remove the freezer template from the fabric for piece 2.   With the fabric side of the block facing you, place the fabric for piece 2 right sides together with piece 1 and align the long diagonal edges that will create the first seam.  Hold in place with your fingers, carefully turn over to the paper side and place a pin at each end of the seam line on the paper side (see first photo below).  Turn the block over again and open the fabric out and check it covers the seam lines around piece 2 by at least ¼” (see second photo below).  Flip the fabric back.  The fabrics can remain pinned together or be lightly glued in the seam allowance using temporary fabric glue like Sewline.  Carry the fabric to your sewing machine.

Adding fabrics to a foundation paper block

 

Using a small stitch, 1.5mm or less, sew the along the seam line between pieces 1 and 2, stitching through the fabric and the paper.  Your seam should start and stop just before and just after the beginning and end of the seamline.  Make sure you secure the beginning and end of your seams with a few backstitches.

Sewing a foundation pieced block

 
 Tip: The small stitches help to hold your seams together tightly and the extra perforations make it easier to remove the paper from the finished block.

  

From the fabric side, press and ‘set’ the seam (photo one below).  Then, open the fabric out, pressing away from the first piece of fabric (photo two below). 

Pressing a patchwork block

 

 Continue adding the fabric pieces from templates 3 and 4 until the block is complete.  Trim the finished block to 6½” square using the paper pattern as a guide.  Repeat to make a total of four blocks.

Foundation piecing

 

 Arrange the four blocks into two rows of two to make the final full size block and sew together as a four-patch block pressing the joining seams open to reduce bulk.  You can experiment with alternative layouts before you sew the blocks together. I played around with two layouts and I preferred the second as the fussy cut navy fabric worked better that way!   Remove the paper on each square before joining them together; there are no particular seam points to match up so removing the paper makes it easier to sew together.

Laying out a patchwork block

 
Tip: Remove the paper more easily by starting at the last seam sewn and working your way back to the first seam.

 

 Press your block!

 

 If you like this technique but cannot obtain freezer paper you can use the same method with card templates.  Print out an extra copy of the Ray of Light pattern on to card, add grainline arrows and cut out.  Place the card templates on the wrong side of the fabric and draw round them using a soft pencil e.g. Sewline ceramic pencil.  Make sure there is at least ½” of extra fabric all around the edge of the template.   Cut out the template leaving a ½” seam allowance all round the edge and proceed from here.

 

 Method Two: Large Strips

 This technique works by using larger bits of fabric for each piece and cutting them down to size as they are added.  You could cut even larger than the sizes suggested for this block if you want a larger comfort zone as you piece!  Most foundation paper piecing block patterns don’t tend to give you cutting dimensions like this so if in doubt always cut bigger than you think you will need.

 

You will need

  • Four contrasting fat eighths, these will be fabrics A, B, C and D.  I am using Katarina Roccella’s Recollection range for Art Gallery Fabrics, kindly supplied by Hantex. 
     
  • Four sheets of A4 printer paper.  Lightweight paper is easiest to use, e.g. 70gsm weight.
     
  • Water based glue stick e.g. Sewline glue stick or even a Pritt stick.
     
  • Hera marker or blunt smooth edged butter knife.

 

Print four copies of the Ray of Light pattern, checking that your settings are at 100% and not scaled down.  The dashed outer square measures 6½” and the solid square measures 6”.  Cut out along the dashed lines.

 

Cutting

For piece 1, using fabric A: cut (4) rectangles 4” x 7”

For piece 2, using fabric B: cut (4) rectangles 3 3/4” x 10”

For piece 3, using fabric C: cut (4) rectangles 3” x 10”

For piece 4, using fabric D: cut (4) rectangles 4” x 8”

 

Construction

 Prepare your pattern by pre-creasing all the seam lines using a Hera marker or non-serrated blunt butter knife and a quilt ruler.  These are the solid black lines on the pattern.

 

Take one fabric A rectangle and with a light source behind the paper pattern, hold it up right side towards you and use a swipe of glue stick on the back of the paper to stick the fabric over the reverse of piece 1.  The wrong side of the fabric square needs to be stuck to the wrong side of the paper.

Patchwork quilt making skills

 

 Place the block on a cutting mat with the paper side upwards.  Fold the paper along the pre-creased line between pieces 1 and 2. This will reveal the excess fabric (wrong side up), some of which will form the seam allowance of the next seam.  Place a quilt ruler or an Add-a-quarter ruler over the folded triangle so it hangs over the edge of the folded paper and the excess fabric by 1/4" to create the seam allowance.  Use a rotary cutter to trim off the excess fabric.

Trimming fabrics for foundation piecing

 
With the fabric side of the block facing you, place the fabric for piece 2 right sides together with piece 1 and align the long diagonal edges that will create the first seam.  Hold in place with your fingers, carefully turn over to the paper side and place a pin at each end of the seam line on the paper side.  Turn the block over again and open the fabric out and check that it covers the seam lines around piece 2 by at least ¼”.  Flip the fabric back.  The fabrics can remain pinned together or be lightly glued in the seam allowance using temporary fabric glue like Sewline.  Carry the fabric to your sewing machine.

Adding pieces to a foundation paper pieced block

  

Continue as for the freezer paper method.  Your finished 6½” square should look like this:

Making a foundation pieced quilt block

 
Repeat to make a total of four blocks and join together as in Method one.  

 

 Resources

Find examples of a Waste Not! block at Quilter’s Cache along with a Kaleidoscope block.  Both blocks are foundation paper pieced.

quilterscache.com/W/WasteNotBlock.html

quilterscache.com/K/KaleidoscopeBlock.html

 

If you ever want to check the dimensions of different fabric cuts commonly used in quilting, there is a handy diagram here.

 

You can read a detailed account about grainline and quilting.

 

All twelve blocks for our sampler quilt are now finished.  You could also choose to make a smaller quilt with just nine blocks. 


Next time we will start joining the blocks together by adding sashing strips and an optional border.

 

Making a quilt series


  Follow Kerry's quilt in progress with our 10-part series.  

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