Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Quilt Update and Paper Piecing Tutorial

For a little break from knitting, I'll tell you about the quilting I was able to fit in last week:
I completed the eight "Melon Spike" pieces of the Hawaiian Star including making the decision of how to place the dark colours. Final decision was to make the pieces all identical (as opposed to using them to make a pattern that would sweep across the whole quilt) and it more or less flows from lightest green to darkest blue.

The blue I like the least ended up being highlighted (the "top" blue fabric), but I think it works there. It's always interesting to me how I can use fabrics or colours I actually don't like much but which are necessary for the piece as a whole to work. Plus I do tend to limit how far I'm willing to go search for the perfect piece. I will make do. That's how I like to work.

In the big picture, the Melon Spikes fit into the quilt at the intersections of the Lone Star sections. (Circled in yellow for you below.)
I expect the blues and greens of the Melon Spikes to echo nicely the same colours in the Corner Spikes right above them. The circling geese pieces (that I still have to do) will arc in between them. So yes, I still have to piece the Circling Geese. I missed my self-imposed deadline of Feb 21, when the club was originally going to meet. I can still make the final deadline of having the top pieced by the final meeting on Mar 21.

And now for a tutorial on Foundation Paper Piecing

If you are not interested in how to paper piece, then feel free to skip the rest of this post. I'm including it because I've heard from a couple people since starting this quilt that paper piecing makes no sense to them. [whiny voice] "It's ha-ard" [end whiny voice] And that's hooey. So I hope the following pictures and descriptions will make some sense of it for you because this method is a wonderful way to do certain designs and achieve unbelievably fabulous points! Always the highest goal of any quilter!

First, the tools that will make life easier:
There is the rotary cutter (which every quilter must have), the wooden iron (which nicely replaces pressing with your fingernail, or "finger pressing"), and the Add a Quarter ruler (which simplifies cutting a quarter inch seam allowance). Oh, and to be honest, you'll probably need a seam ripper too. Mistakes do happen...

Foundation paper piecing starts with a foundation paper on which is printed the design and if you're lucky, seam allowances. Because what you see on the paper is the wrong side, it is the mirror image of the final pattern. In the pattern I have, the seam allowances are indicated by dotted lines and the stitch lines by solid lines.
In the few patterns I've done with paper piecing, the pattern's writer indicated what size of fabric to cut for each section. One pattern just specified rectangle pieces big enough to cover the section and this current project has templates so that the fabric can be cut more efficiently. The fundamental idea is to have a large enough piece of fabric to cover the section and the seam allowances. But always cut a little on the generous side if you have to choose.

Taking the foundation paper, find section 1, the first section to be put in place:
Take your fabric for section one, and put it under the paper right side down so it "covers" section one including its seam allowances. In the following pic you can see the fabric (circled in yellow) under the paper, and it is big enough to "cover" the area outlined in orange. (It may be bigger than that, but it has to at least cover that.)
Now some people use a glue stick to keep this fabric in place for the next couple steps, but I prefer pins. User's choice!

Now you want to fold the paper back along line 1. I use an index card to fold the paper against to make a nice, straight and firm fold.

So now the paper is folded back revealing the "excess" fabric underneath:
We need to cut some of that fabric away so that we will have neat 1/4 inch seams. Using your Add a Quarter ruler, place the lip of the ruler against the paper fold and cut along the edge of the ruler. Voila! A perfect 1/4 inch seam allowance. You can do this with a regular quilter's ruler, but it is slower and more prone to slip ups. I find the specialty ruler well worth it.

Now that we have the edge of the seam allowance defined, we can take the fabric for section two and slip is under the fabric for section one right side up. (You're sewing right sides together, just like usual.)
Match the two fabric edges:
Then flip the paper back, (pin if desired), and sew along line 1.

After sewing, we can flip the whole thing over, and you can see the seam you have just sewn:
(If you used a glue stick, this is the time to pull the fabric away from the paper. If you leave it til the end, it will become very difficult to rip the paper away.)

Now flip the section two fabric over, and press with your wooden iron (or finger nail, if preferred). You do not want to be running back and forth to a real iron, and the non-heated pressing does not distort your fabrics.
I have learned that you should not rub too hard or vigorously with the wooden iron or it will mar your fabric and give it "heat burn" making it shiny.

Now for the next piece...You want to take your index card and fold the paper along line 2. However, the previous stitching is in the way (see yellow circle). All you need to do is pull the point of a straight pin along the stitch line (not too hard, you don't want to rip the thread) in order to tear the paper. You can then fold the paper back.
You then proceed to cut the fabric 1/4 inch from the fold with your Add a Quarter ruler, align your fabric for section three, fold the paper back, (pin if desired), sew along line 2, press open, and repeat for all sections of the piece.

Section three is added:
Section four:
Sections five...and six and seven (oops, missed some pictures):
Section eight:
Section nine:
The final steps are to press with a heat iron (and steam, I love the steam!), and cut everything off at the outside cutting line of the paper.
Et voila! A final piece. And please admire those beautiful points! I really had nothing to do with them; they're automatic with this method.

I will admit that the trickiest part of this method is making sure your fabric is big enough to cover the section it's supposed to. Sewing non-square pieces at funny angles really exercises the spatial computing part of your brain. Some people will trace the dotted seam allowance lines to the back side of the paper with a light box so that you can see exactly where your fabric needs to be when you're putting it into place. It does help but I found it to be way too much tedious-ness for the couple of seams I might have to rip back. And this is one of those things that gets easier and easier with practice. (Surprise surprise.)

I hope this makes some sense of the process for you, keeping in mind that it's just one step at a time.


  1. You're right, it's not hard. {enter whiny voice} It's just a pain! {end whiny voice} But it does make everything super accurate.

  2. Re: paper foundation piecing (pfp)

    Only one do you remove the paper afterwards without putting undue (un-do!) stress on the seams? Should you dampen the paper, or just gently pull?

    No whining makes sense. It takes out the guess-work of lining up seams, ensures perfect corners, and is easy to follow. Yay!

    FYI: Yes...I am a Newbie at pfp. I want to make your Canadian maple leaf foundation pattern & want it to turn out RIGHT! (BTW: Thank You! There are many 'maple leaf' patterns out there, but they mostly look like 'bear paws'. YOURS is how OUR leaf should look 💗🍁.)

    1. Hi Kim. Thanks for your comments. After bad memories of trying to draw the Canadian maple leaf for school projects, I was happy to find a way to sew one easily! :)

      As for removing the paper, the first thing you do is sew with a smaller stitch (On my machine, I set it at 2 instead of 2.5. Hopefully that translates to whatever system your machine uses.) This will both strengthen the seam and perforate the paper more.

      Before I tear, I make sure the paper has been folded back and forth a couple times. This may have already been done in the stitching and trimming process. Start with the outside (or last done) seams and work your way in. I also like to put my fingernail right beside the seam where I'm going to start tearing to support the fabric and give the paper an "edge" to rip along.

      I don't think dampening the paper will help. Although it does weaken the paper so it would tear more easily, I think it would result in lots of little pieces that you have to try and remove individually. And I think the wet pieces would stick to your fabric and be hard to remove.

      Finally, I have paper pieced with regular copy paper and it works fine, but the paper made specifically for paper piecing is better for the job. YMMV

      Good luck!

  3. Thank you so much Christina!

    Funny thing...when we first learned to sew in high school, we practised on paper. No thread, just learning to follow the lines & not sew our fingers (although, that happened too! Lol). So, maybe this is why the thought of sewing on paper does not feel so daunting, and somewhat historically familiar.

    Looking forward to giving it a go!


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