Maintain the integrity of your block by beginning with the perfect foundation. These can be permanent or temporary, depending on how the quilt will be used. Some choices include muslin, lightweight interfacing, tear-away stabilizer, and vellum. There also are several products made or marketed specifically for paper piecing, including wash-away paper and preprinted foundation designs--many of these can be run through an ink-jet printer.
To make copies of the foundation pattern, choose from the following options.
Precise Tracing is Key
You can make multiple copies by stapling several layers of paper together with the original on top. Then, with no thread in your machine and a medium to long stitch length, sew precisely on the lines of the traced pattern. The needle will pierce holes in the layers that will exactly match the pattern lines. Don’t forget to number the copies. If you use a photocopier to reproduce your pattern, check the copy against the original. Make all of your copies at the same time as copy quality can vary between machines.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
Foundation piecing requires that you sew the fabric pieces on the reverse side of the block image. Each block is a mirrored, or reversed, image of the pattern. If the blocks are symmetrical, such as a square-in-a-square block, this won’t be an issue. However, if you need certain elements to be in a specific position, you might need to reverse your pattern before you make copies. Check the pattern against the project photo to be sure. It helps to write the color selections on the pattern before you begin sewing. If you’re piecing log-cabin blocks that require a light and dark side, draw a line diagonally through the pattern. Write "light" on one side of the line and "dark" on the other to help you keep things straight.
Even though you can use the tiniest of scraps for foundation piecing, you need to have fabrics large enough to cover each section. A minimum of ½" larger than the piece to be covered is recommended. Because the foundation will stabilize your fabric, there’s no need to worry about grain lines when you cut the fabric. The fabric pieces don’t need to be cut perfectly, as any excess will be trimmed away after each piece has been stitched.
Steps for Sewing
On your pattern, crease the line between areas #1 and #2. Place your first and second fabrics with the right sides together, aligning the raw edges. Pin them to the side of the pattern without numbers so that the wrong side of fabric #1 is touching the paper. Extend the raw edges at least 1/4" above the creased line, making sure the fabric covers both sections.
Flip your pattern over and sew on the first line, going a stitch or two past the intersecting lines. Finger-press the fabric pieces open, or use a small iron.
Folding the paper back so you don’t cut it, align the 1/4" mark on an acrylic ruler with the folded pattern edge and trim off the excess fabric. To help make sewing less confusing, crease the line between #2 and #3. Trim the excess fabric, adding the ¼" seam allowance. Take your third fabric and align the raw edge with this cut edge, making sure it extends beyond the next seam. Flip, stitch, press and trim your way around the rest of the pattern. When you’re sewing, it helps to have your stitches small, about 14 per inch and to use a larger needle, such as a 90/14. Replace the needle if it becomes dull. A clear sewing foot or one with an open toe allows you to see the line better. Select your fabrics first and layer them in the order you’ll be sewing. It’ll help you stay on track if you get interrupted.
When you’ve completed your block, you can stabilize it by spraying it with fabric finish or starch. Press and let it dry on your ironing board to avoid distortion. Trim the block and don’t forget to add a 1/4" seam allowance to the outside edges. Often it’s marked on the pattern but pay attention to which line you need to cut on. If you’ve used foundation paper, it helps to start in the center of the block to remove it. Spritzing the paper lightly with water will soften it and help in removal. Running a pin or the tip of a seam ripper along the stitching line makes the paper easier to remove, too. Avoid tugging, as it will loosen your stitches. If the paper won’t come out of a small area, use tweezers to gently pull it free. Many quilters feel it’s best to leave the paper in place until the blocks are joined together. Follow the direction in your project for the best results.
Oops, I Goofed
The two most common mistakes in foundation piecing are not cutting your fabric large enough to cover the next section, and putting a right and wrong side of fabric together. To unstitch a seam, slide the point of your seam ripper flat along the stitches. Cut a few along the seam every 1/2" or so, pulling out the ones in between. This will keep the paper from ripping. Press your fabric open fully so that tucks don’t form. Having a small ironing mat and rotary cutter on your sewing table will make your piecing quicker and easier.
Foundation piecing is an easy and efficient way to assemble these blocks which demand precision, as seen in American Patchwork and Quilting, February 2003.
Quilt designer: Mabeth Oxenreider
Quilt name: Square-in-a-Square
Collect signatures from your friends and then use this paper-pieced pattern to make a signature quilt. American Patchwork and Quilting, February 2001.
Quilt designer: Lisa DeBee Schiller
Quilt name: Remember Me
This star-studded table topper or wall hanging has points that match perfectly, thanks to a great foundation pieced method. 2000 American Patchwork and Quilting Calendar, March.
Quilt designer: Judith Hughes Marte
Quilt name: Homespun Heaven