• Paper Piecing

    Some of you know that I have an e-book called "Paper Piecing Basics." Today, I want to present to you the introduction chapter of this e-book. It makes a pretty good newsletter issue by itself.

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    What is Paper Piecing?

    If you have never tried quilting before but would like to experience the joys of this ancient art, all you need to start you off is a little method we call Paper Piecing.

    Paper piecing, also called "Paper Foundation Piecing" (sometimes also called "Foundation Paper Piecing") or PFP by quilting fans, is a method used to construct quilting blocks easily and accurately by sewing fabric directly to the lines of a paper pattern.

    Unlike traditional template piecing, PFP is a good technique for making miniature quilt blocks. It also allows the quilter to create complicated designs by doing one block at a time. What more, with PFP, you can use little scraps of fabric lying around.

    Anybody can do it. It does not require any particular skill but involves a series of steps which anybody can follow.

    Paper Piecing Then and Now

    Quilting has been around for hundreds of years. The oldest quilted work was found in Egypt worn by a 3200 year old Pharaoh statue. However, Paper Piecing evolved much later -- during the great "quilting age" in 19th century Europe. The oldest record found which used paper piecing was a quilt top dated 1889.

    Over the years, quilters used old magazines, catalogs, typing paper to do PFP. However, there were no standard procedures and most crafters invented their own system.

    It was Lesley-Claire Greenberg, acknowledged as the mother of "modern day foundation piecing" who drew guidelines and procedures and made PFP easy and methodical.

    Compared to the old PFP method, the student will notice that modern Paper Piecing Patterns has numbers and letters. A typical pattern has a block with sections drawn with numbers or letters to indicate the sequence of sewing.

    Tools to help you

    Before starting to paper-piece, here are some tools which you will need to launch you into your new hobby:

    Paper -- There are several kinds of paper which you can use:

    a) Freezer paper -- this is readily available in craft stores and is easy to use because it sticks on the fabric. Its disadvantage however is that there is no available pre-cut size for your printer. You have to cut it to letter size for printing your patterns.

    b) Tracing paper -- Lightweight and transparent, this is great for tracing those patterns and lets you see through easily. You must remember though that due to its thinness, it shrinks under hot iron. So if you're going to use this type of paper, iron first to pre-shrink it. Another disadvantage is that it only feeds one at a time in a printer and doesn't hold up well under rip-outs.

    c) Cheap Typing Paper -- Use the cheapest typing paper so it is transparent enough to see through. Aside from being less costly, typing paper feeds through the printer well and can be easily removed from the stitches.

    Light source -- you will need a light source to see if your fabric is aligned with your pattern. A good light source would be a desk lamp or a home-made light box. If neither is available, you can make do with a large flash light. You can also use the light of your sewing machine.

    Rotary cutter -- A rotary cutter is a rolling razor blade which you will use for cutting fabrics into shapes, strips and pieces. More manageable than scissors, it will help you cut angles and corners better.

    Scissors -- Scissors are always handy to have around for cutting threads, paper patterns and fabric.

    Cutting Mat -- When using a rotary cutter, make sure you have a rubber cutting mat to protect the surface of your work table and to prevent fabric from slipping your grip.

    Quilt pins -- longer than other pins, you will use this to pin your fabric and paper pattern in place.

    Quilting thread -- Use 100% cotton thread. Available at most craft stores, these will provide you with a variety of colors to match the fabric you're working on.

    Iron -- Keep this handy as you have to iron the seams before sewing the next fabric in place.

    Wooden iron -- You can also use a wooden iron to flatten the seams instead of steam/hot iron.

    1/4 foot -- The 1/4" allowance for the seams is a standard for quilting and paper-piecing. This little tool will help you achieve an exact 1/4" seam by using the edge of the foot as guide.

    Sewing Machine -- Paper piecing requires small stitches which can only be done by a sewing machine. Hand sewing is not feasible as stitches will be uneven and big, aside from the fact that hand stitching will eventually tear the paper.

    Last minute tips to remember

    Start Small -- Begin with small projects. Choose designs which are easy to cut and assemble. Avoid overly-ornate designs which can overwhelm you. Choose easy blocks. Choosing easy blocks will help teach you the basics of quilting and color combinations.

    Free Block patterns are readily available on the net and will give you myriad choices. Example of easy block patterns are: the Rail-fence, 4-patch, 9-patch or the checkerboard.

    Use 100% cotton -- Although there are a lot of fabrics to choose from, the beginner should start working on cotton. It is easy to work on and holds creases well unlike poly-cotton blends which puckers when washed.

    Remember the 1/4" seam -- This is one of the most common mistakes of beginners. Always allow 1/4" seams around your paper pattern and keep it even to produce crisp-looking blocks.

    Don't backstitch -- there is no need to do a backstitch at the end of the seams. Once the quilt top is finished, the stitches will hold the sections together.

    Pre-wash -- Pre-wash, especially if you're using dark or vivid colors. Pre-washing will tell you if the color bleeds and at the same time, pre-shrink cotton fabrics. If colors run, rinse the fabric with some vinegar to fix it.

    Always Press! -- Remember to press the seams after sewing to keep it flat and even. You can finger press or use a wooden iron. An iron would be more work, but it works better in keeping the seams really flat.

    Keep these things in mind and you're ready to do the real work. The next chapter will take you step-by-step through making of a block using paper piecing. Each step is fully illustrated and will make you a paper piecing expert in no time at all.

    Subscriber comments:
    I like to use lightweight interfacing when doing paper piecing. You can copy the block without a light source and there is no need to remove it from the finished block. It is lightweight and easy to work with, plus it does not add much bulk to the finished piece. I trace the block with pencil. Interfacing is less expensive than purchased tear-away paper. Many of us have some in our sewing supplies that we may never use for garments. Such was my case, I just kept it until I found another use for it.
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