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Paper Piecing Basics

By Connie Spurlock and Teri Chandler, Sew Wonderful Dreams

The following information is basic information on paper piecing. If you have never used the technique of paper piecing, you will need read it all carefully. This will give you basic tools necessary for successful paper piecing. After reading through this information, you'll be able to start working with your pattern.

Choosing your fabrics:

For best results, choose fabrics that are 100% cottons. To provide some special texture or effect, you may deviate from cotton but in general, cottons will provide you with a better result than cotton blends or rayon's. Usually the pieces that you will be using will be small scraps of fabrics and therefore do not need to be prewashed. Even if you do wash your wall hanging, because the pieces are so small, the shrinkage, if any will be minimal. If the colors however would possibly bleed, usually darker colors or reds, then do prewash those fabrics, rinsing with vinegar if you still think bleeding would be a problem.

Reproducing your pattern:

When paper piecing, you will want to keep your original pattern intact and make copies of the original on which to sew. There is some disagreement about which is the better way to make this reproduction. One way is to trace the pattern. We feel it is much easier to simply  make a photocopy. While there are those that think this method produces some distortion because no copy machine can copy a perfect replica, our experience is that this variation in size is insignificant on this size of finished product. You have our permission to photocopy our patterns (see our web page) for your own personal use as you wish. You may make our items for your pleasure and your profit. Photocopying our patterns to give or sell to anyone other than the pattern purchaser is an infringement on your copyright.

Understanding the terms:

If we could sit down with each of you and visually show you how to proceed from here, each of you would be an expert (or at least competent) in a very short time. If you have never paper-pieced, read through the entire pattern before beginning and look at each diagram. First of all, there are several blocks to each pattern. You will assemble the pattern by putting these blocks together. The blocks are "lettered" such as block A, block B, etc. and a diagram will be on the pattern to show you the final layout. (See Diagram 1)

Paper Piecing Basics

Additionally, each block has a number of sections necessary to assemble that piece. The sections are numbered in the order that you add fabric. You will always begin with "1" and work in numerical order until you have completed the block. As you begin, look at your paper pattern. On one side you have the printed design (pieces numbered ) and the back of the paper will of course be blank. You will do all of your sewing on the printed side but all of course be blank. You will do all of your sewing on the printed side but all of your fabric, as you assemble the sections, will be on the blank side -- actually between the paper and your sewing machine.

All of your stitching will be on the printed side and only on the lines. The first time you stitch, you will stitch on the line between section 1 and section 2. Begin at one end of the line, backstitch and  stitch to the other end of the line and backstitch. Your second time to stitch will be on the line between section 2 and section 3, etc. Each time you will backstitch as you begin and end your stitching. If you are stitching to an outside linen also stitch across the 1/4 seam allowance and stitch to the edge of each block. These outside stitching lines will be indicated by dotted lines.

Your needles, stitch length and thread:

We have found that using a larger size needle, like a 90/14, a length of about 15 (or more) stitches per inch and neutral colored thread will produce satisfactory results.

To Begin Assembly:

1. Your 1st fabric piece needs to be larger than the section indicated as "1". Turn your paper pattern to the unprinted side and using a glue stick, place dot of glue on the back side of the "1". Place the wrong side of your fabric against the dot of glue. As you are looking at the printed side of your paper pattern, the right side of the fabric would be facing away from you.

2. Choose your fabric for "2". It must be larger than the section that it is suppose to fill. Your first piece of fabric was placed with the wrong side against the paper but ALL other pieces on each section will be placed with the right side of the fabric towards the paper.

Paper Piecing BasicsWe think that two things will help you as you begin paper piecing. First, hold the paper up to the light with the fabrics in place -- this will allow you to see how you should position them so they will be sewn correctly. Second, fold the paper pattern towards you  on each section, beginning on section 2. The fold will be 1/4" above the line that you will sew on. Fold the paper forward and trim the underneath fabric even with the fold line. This will give you a 1/4" seam allowance and will also let you know where to place the edge of your second piece of fabric. Stitch on the line between section 1 and 2. Repeat the process by folding the paper towards you 1/4" above the stitching line between section 2 and 3. Trim the fabric to be even with the paper and place the 3rd fabric with right sides to the fabric in section2. Continue until you have finished each block. (See Diagram 2)


3. It will be important to trim each seam before proceeding to next fabric -- we have done this in step 2 using the paper fold as a guide. Also it is important that you finger press each seam open before proceeding to the next section. After you finish sewing the block, trim all edges leaving a 1/4" seam allowance on each block. Using a dry iron, carefully press your block. Do not remove the paper from the back of the block until you have sewn all blocks together and assembled the front to your wall hanging. This will keep your fabric from stretching and give better results.

4. Assemble the blocks as shown in the diagram with the appropriate borders. Remember all borders are cut to allow a 1/4" seam allowance. When you have assembled your wall hanging, gently remove the paper from the back.

Protecting your ironing board:

When ironing your block, your will need to iron on the fabric side. Because your ink side will be against your ironing board, often the iron transfers your printed design to your ironing board cover (permanently). To prevent this, we recommend that you either iron onto a scrap piece of fabric or a Teflon pressing sheet.

More information about Sew Wonderful Dreams paper-piecing patterns.

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