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The Precision of Paper-Piecing

The Panama Quilt Guild has been taking advantage of the knowledge and expertise of our members the last couple of years to provide programs for our meetings. We have shared our favorite tools and learned to make a bargello pattern. We have learned a fun and unique way to make a hot pad and a no-sew Christmas ornament. For the January meeting it was my turn to do the program for the group and I chose to teach them how to paper-piece.


By using a paper pattern to piece a quilt the quilter is able to make blocks with irregular shapes. Some quilt designs use this process to make just some of the blocks in the quilt. In this case one to three paper patterns may be used a number of times throughout the quilt. This was the design used in several quilts that I have made for my daughter, Melissa, including her graduation quilt, her wedding quilt (shown below), and a table runner.

In other projects the entire quilt is a paper pattern and every piece is different. Examples of these that I have made include the Harry Potter quilt for Henry, numerous musical instrument blocks from the book entitled 24 Musical Quilt Blocks by Linda Causee (shown below), and the lion, unicorn, honeycomb, and elephant patterns by Violet Craft.

After showing the group a sampling of the paper-pieced quilts that I have made I distributed a handout which outlined my talking points for the evening and could be used as a reference when trying this technique. After a brief introduction there is a list of tools needed to be successful as a paper-piecer. To start with it is helpful to use a newsprint paper for the patterns as it is much easier to tear out when the top is complete than regular weight printer paper. (Ask me how I know this!) I prefer to use the paper from Carol Doak or That Patchwork Place. While I normally use our computer’s printer to copy the patterns one can also trace them onto the newsprint paper using a light box. When constructing the paper-pieced block it is also necessary to have an add-a-quarter ruler (for making accurate 1/4” seams), a 4” x 6” index card (for accurate folding of the seam line), and a roller (for pressing seams open or to one side without having to use an iron). General quilting tools such as a rotary cutter, ruler, cutting mat, and sewing machine are also used when doing this technique.

The next part of my program included a demonstration of the actual technique of paper-piecing. I had prepared a pattern and five pieces of fabric ahead of time so that I could show them just how easy this technique can be. I began by discussing how to measure the fabric to prepare it for the pattern. Then I showed them how to use the add-a-quarter ruler to make a 1/4” seam. I then pinned two fabric pieces to the pattern using thin pins placed outside of the seam line. Next I shortened the stitch length on my sewing machine and sewed on the seam line. The shortened stitch length makes it easier to tear out the paper when the top is complete. Then I laid the two fabric pieces right side up and used the roller to “press” the seam to one side making sure that the fabrics covered the entire pattern. Finally I showed them how to cut on the outside lines when the block is finished. It is important to wait until the entire top is complete to tear out the paper as there will be multiple bias edges in the block that will stretch if the paper is torn out too soon. The last thing a quilter wants is a wobbly block. In addition it can be helpful to use a pair of tweezers to release the paper from the seams.

My main objectives for this session were to make the guild members feel less intimated and more inspired to try this technique. There are many quilt tops that use a fairly simple paper pattern in which the quilter can give this technique a try. I will know if my objectives were met if I see some paper-pieced quilts at some of our future Show-and-Tells!


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