Monday, January 5, 2015

Paper Piecing Step-by-Step

My duties as teacher at Quilters' Paradise in Baldwin City, Kansas, are pushing me to look at my skills in various quilting techniques from a new angle. I'm learning how to explain what I do rather than just do it without thinking about it. It's great to be able to break a technique down into steps to share with others! With our monthly table runner class, I'm trying to introduce new techniques each month and January featured paper piecing. While we didn't complete a table runner in class this time, those who attended did leave with one of four paper pieced hearts complete and time to make the others for a cute Valentine's Day runner.
When I posted the picture of my pieced hearts on my Facebook page, I had requests for a how-to, so here goes. Paper Piecing Step-by-Step as done by me in preparation for my class.

There are a variety of patterns and books out that cover paper piecing. I have learned from both Carol Doak's website of free quilt patterns and her blog, and from Michele Foster at Quilting Gallery while doing her Delightful Stars online quilt-along (now available on her website as a booklet). Both have excellent information and patterns available at their websites.

For this class, I chose three paper pieced hearts from Carol Doak's free downloads, and drafted a Swedish Heart myself in EQ7 to make the four hearts to be sashed and bordered for either a table runner or a small wall hanging. I printed the full size patterns onto foundation paper. While you can print on regular computer paper, it is heavier and will be more difficult to remove after your blocks are made. Using the lighter weight newsprint or foundation paper makes the process much easier. Be sure when printing PDF patterns that you select "actual size" rather than "shrink" or "fit" option from the print screen. This will assure all of your patterns will print full size and won't cause any problems with blocks fitting together down the road. I then pulled my fabrics and began the process.
Separate the various sections that will be paper pieced and later assembled into the block, keeping the instructions nearby. In this case, the instructions were printed on the same page as the block sections. The woven heart block uses five fabrics, each used in specific places on different sections to achieve the woven look. I laid out the fabrics on sticky-notes with numbers and marked the four sections of the paper patterns with numbers matching the fabrics so placement would be correct. The numbers that are printed on the paper patterns indicate the order the fabrics are to be sewn on, not the number of the color assigned to that position. If I had been using multiple colors, I would have written "red", "white", "yellow" etc., into those spots instead of the handwritten #1-5 that I used here. I then followed the pattern guide and cut the indicated pieces out of each fabric and laid them on the stick-notes.
For position 1, take the indicated fabric and place it wrong side to the paper on the back and pin it in place. From the paper side, hold it up to be sure the fabric covers the entire area of position 1 with at least 1/4" allowance beyond the solid stitch line. Fold the paper back on the line between positions 1 and 2 and, with the paper folded back, trim fabric to 1/4". Place the piece of fabric for position 2 right-sides together with the fabric in position 1 and pin, aligning them with 1/4" allowance beyond the stitch-line between their sections. Be sure your fabric in position 2, when stitched and flipped back to its spot, completely covers position 2. For straight pieces like illustrated here, it is pretty easy. For angled pieces, you may or may not have straight edges lined up, which is perfectly okay (more on this below with detail from the Star Heart).
Fold the pattern back out and sew along the solid line between sections 1 and 2. I recommend a stitch length no longer than 2mm and smaller is probably better. Closer stitching will perforate your paper better and make it much easier to remove when your block is complete. When a section goes only part way across the block, start or stop at the center intersection with 2-3 reinforced stitches, and sew off the outside edge of the pattern & fabric.

Once the seam is stitched, remove the pin and press the fabric over towards section 2. Then fold the paper pattern back along the solid line for section 3 and trim the fabric from sections 1 and 2 to 1/4". Align the fabric for section 3 right-sides together with sections 1 and 2, and stitch on the solid line. For this particular piece, section three extends all the way across the block, so stitch on and off the paper at both ends. You always stitch with the paper side UP, following the lines. Again, when finished stitching, press the fabric back over the paper, opening up each piece as you go.
Now it is time to sew on the corner pieces. Fold the paper pattern back along the line between section 2 and 4, and trim the block to 1/4" beyond the fold. Place the triangle for corner position 4, right sides together, behind the block. Unfold the paper pattern and sew along the solid line between section 2 and 4. 
After stitching, press the triangle out to cover the corner section. Repeat for section 5. Your block should now look like this before trimming. There may be times when you stitch off the edge of your paper pattern and then have another section that crosses nearby. You can gently tear your paper away from seams in order to get the pattern free to fold for the next stitch line. Just be sure to keep it intact enough to keep the pattern straight and square throughout the process.
As you build each section, remember to follow the printed numbers as the order to add fabrics. Be sure to keep track of which fabrics you want where and write on your pattern so you keep your fabric placement the way you had planned. Also remember that the blocks are in reverse when the paper side is up. When all four sections are laid out paper side up, it is a mirror image of the finished block from the right side.
Trim all blocks when complete to 1/4" from the solid line (a dotted line was printed on these patterns which indicated the final 1/4" seam allowance around the section). Sew the block sections together into rows and then rows together to complete the block. I pressed the seams in opposing directions for the sections and then pressed the final seam open to reduce bulk. I was careful to pin the intersections where points come together between sections so they would stay properly aligned on the finished block.
Once the block is complete, then you can remove the papers. If a fine stitch has been used, the paper should be perforated and remove easily. Be careful not to pull at your stitches too much as you remove the paper. A pair of tweezers can be very helpful in removing small bits from corners or in seam allowances. If you are assembling multiple paper pieced blocks together into rows, you  might want to leave the paper in until they are all assembled, which will help reduce any distortion of the blocks. Also be aware if outside edges are bias edges, leaving the paper in might serve you well until additional blocks or sashings are attached.
For blocks like the Bow Heart and the Star Heart, there were several pieces that needed to be sewn on that did not line up straight. In this case, I placed the fabric over the indicated section right side out, then folded the seam allowance under to meet the adjoining block to check its placement before pinning, trimming, and sewing. The pieces on angled sections get sewn on at what seems like a funny angle, so lining the fabric up with the previous block will not necessarily cover the next section correctly. As shown here, to get the section of the Star Heart aligned, I had to lay it out at an angle, trimmed to 1/4", and then sewed. When pressed out, it correctly covered the star point. Always test and, if necessary (which I did several times), carefully rip out from the fabric side (picking one stitch at a time helps from tearing the paper you will need to stitch over again), then realign, and resew.

That's it! That is my step-by-step procedure of making paper pieced hearts. It was great fun and, as you can see, when you paper piece and follow the stitching lines, you get absolutely perfect points! And, your points on the outside will match perfectly as a 1/4" seam allowance is built into the patterns.

Good luck in your paper piecing! I hope this tutorial was helpful.

More snippets from the sewing room soon,