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Foundations of Foundation Paper Piecing

The Weekend Quilter Blooming Scraps Foundation Paper Piecing FPP Quilt Pattern Tutorial
 
Foundation Paper Piecing (FPP) is a piecing technique in quilt making. The technique uses paper as a foundation to stabilize the quilt block as it is constructed. Once the quilt block is completed, the paper is removed. 
 
With FPP, almost any shape, size or type of block is possible. The technique is used to achieve precise, small and detailed piecing, and specific and unusual shapes that might not necessarily be achieved through traditional piecing. It can be applied to the most simplest or complex quilt blocks or units. 
 
Here's an example of a block where FFP is used to achieve unusual and specific shapes. This is the lunar new year tiger FPP quilt block by Happy Sew Lucky.
 
unar new year tiger FPP quilt block by Happy Sew Lucky
   
Whether you are new to it or need a refresher the following blog post takes you through how to FPP with my Blooming Scraps quilt pattern. Download the quilt pattern here from early-May 2022. If you need more visual support to help break these steps down, my go-to YouTube tutorial for FPP by Angela Walters. 
 

Understanding and Preparing Paper Templates

Before we jump into sewing, we need to understand what the different lines and numbers on a paper template mean. 

Using the paper templates for the Blooming Scraps quilt pattern as an example, the solid border illustrates the finished sized block or unit. The dotted lines outside of the border is the ¼" seam allowance (the unfinished sized block or unit). In between all that, there are numbers and other solid lines. The numbers indicate the order in which the fabrics should be placed and sewn. Imagine paint-by-numbers. But with FPP, it’s sew-by-numbers. The remaining solid lines indicate where you should sew and you’ll be sewing directly onto the paper template.

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter Understanding Paper Templates

How the sewing and trimming guidelines are shown on a template may vary from designer to designer, pattern to pattern. The inner guidelines could be represented as dotted lines instead of solid lines, and vice versa. Some designers may also include additional information on the template. For example in my Blooming Scraps FPP templates I have also included where to place certain coloured fabrics and fabric sizes highlighted in grey.
 
Follow the paper template printing instructions outlined in the quilt pattern, cut out the paper templates slightly larger than the dotted lines and with a pair of scissors or rotary cutter for paper. In doing so, it allows room for error and trimming of the final quilt block or unit, which will be performed in a later step.
 
Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter Cutting and Preparing Foundation Paper Templates
 

What You'll Need

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter Required Tools
  • Printed FPP template(s) - Just about any type of paper will work with FPP, as long as you’re able to remove it when the block is complete. The thinner the paper is, for example FPP paper, the easier it will be to complete the step. I used (and most commonly), printer paper. 
  • Thread - Lightweight thread, 80wt for more precise stitching, but 50wt works just as well as long as it is strong enough to hold itself when the paper template is removed.
  • Pins
  • Cutting mat 
  • Rotary cutter
  • Rotary cutter or scissors for paper 
  • Quilting ruler 
  • Pins - Used to keep fabrics in place when sewing.
  • Fabrics of choice
  • Iron and ironing board / wool pressing mat
  • Lightbox (optional) - This produces an additional light source at the desk to help with aligning fabric with paper templates when pinning and sewing. If a lightbox is not readily available, you can hold the paper template and fabric up to the light from the window, a lamp, light on the sewing machine or any light source in your sewing space.

Directions

Step 1: Adjust stitch length on sewing machine anywhere between 1.0 to 1.5. This is going to help keep the stitches intact when the paper template is removed from the quilt block. 

The smaller the stitch length, the longer it takes to make the stitches but it makes the paper easier to tear off, and vice versa with a larger stitch length. I used 1.2 stitch length in this example.  

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter Stitch Length

 

Step 2: Get the lay of the land, and scan the numbers on the paper template to get an idea of how the block or unit is constructed. 

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter Foundation paper templates

Then, turn the paper template around so the non-printed side is facing up. Place the fabric that covers section 1, right side facing up, on top of the non-printed side of the paper template. Essentially, the non-printed side of the paper template is touching the wrong side of the fabric. 

Fabric used to cover section 1 on the paper template should be at least ¼" larger than the first section, all the way around. To ensure the fabric covers the section, hold the paper template and the fabric to a light source.

Pin the fabric to the paper template or hold it firmly to prevent it from shifting. 

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter

 

Step 3: Turn the paper template around, printed side facing up. Fold the paper along the line between sections 1 and 2. This fold will help determine the placement and where to align fabric for section 2. 

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter

Place fabric for section 2 on top of fabric in section 1, right sides together. Holding the paper template and section 2 fabric to a light source, ensure fabric for section 2 extends at least ¼" beyond the fold (refer to the blue line in the example below) and covers section 2 when the paper template is unfolded. In doing so, it ensures fabric used in section 2 covers the designated area when sewn and pressed, and it takes into account the ¼" seam allowance. 

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter

Pin the fabric used in section 2 to the paper template or hold it firmly to secure its placement. 

 

Step 4: Turn the paper template around so the printed side is facing up, and unfold it (if you haven’t done so already). Sew on the solid line between section 1 and 2. Back stitch the start and end of the seam. This is going to provide additional enforcement when the paper template is removed.

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter

Note: For the purpose of this tutorial I have used a coloured thread to make stitching more visible. But for your actual project you may want to use a neutral coloured thread to make the stitching less visible.

 

Step 5: Remove the paper template from the sewing machine and place it on the cutting mat with the paper template facing printed side up. Remove pin(s). Fold back the paper template at the seam. Using the fold as a guide, trim ¼" seam allowance. Make sure you do not cut through the paper template when performing this step.  

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter

 

Step 6: Unfold the paper template, turn it around so the non-printed side and fabrics are facing up. Fold and press section 2 fabric. Thereby section 2 fabric covers section 2. 

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter

 

Step 7: Repeat steps 2 to 6 until the paper template is covered with fabric.

 Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter

 

Step 8: With the printed side of the paper template facing up, trim the block or unit down to the dotted line border. 

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter

 

Step 9: If the quilt pattern has more than one template to complete a block, sew the paper templates together, right sides of the fabrics together with a ¼" seam allowance. Press the seams open or to the dark side as you go. 

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend QuilterFoundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter

 

Step 10: Now onto the fun part. Without popping any of the seams, carefully remove the paper template from the back of the block or unit. With the help of the shorter stitch length, the paper templates should tear off easily.  

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter

 

Step 11: Give the block a final press and voila! You’ve just FPP’d! 

Foundations of Paper Piecing Tutorial by The Weekend Quilter

 

Bookmark this blog post or the YouTube video by Angela Walters for future reference. And if you liked my Blooming Scraps quilt pattern, you can download it here from early-May 2022. 

The Weekend Quilter Blooming Scraps Foundation Paper Piecing FPP Quilt Pattern