Sunday, January 8, 2017

Paper Piecing Primer

When several members of my guild asked for help with the 2017 Block of the Month from The Quilt Show I decided to offer a small group at my house, once a month, to provide assistance as needed.  The quilt is another wonderful Sue Garman design:  Halo Medallion.

Here is my center so far:

The patterns are free as part of Star Membership, which costs $42.95 a year.  I wrote more about this here,  

In prepping for our first get-together, I started my center star:

Here are some of the tips I shared with the group and they apply to paper piecing any pattern:

1. This is not a fast project.  It deserves your best work so take it slow and enjoy the process.

2. Fabric selection:  Instead of 11 yards of one background, consider using several that have the same feel, like all cream, or all white, etc.  The advantage to using lots of fabrics is you cannot run out.  Just add something new that is similar in color to one you've used up.  Permission to shop...

3. Printing the patterns:  test the ink from your printer, generic inks may bleed more than first quality ink.  Be sure the pattern prints accurately.  The "feathers" in this center block are supposed to be slightly larger than 1".  There is a 1" test square on page 23 of the first months' pattern--be sure that square really printed exactly 1". I use regular copy paper, the cheaper the better, but have used specialty papers in the past, they work well too.

4. Thread:  I use only a fine,  high quality thread for this kind of intricate pattern.  My favorite is Masterpiece from Superior Thread or Aurifil 50 wt. thread.  I wrote about thread here.

5. Set the stitch length to 22-24 stitches/inch.  On my Bernina 765 I'm using 1.5.  This makes the paper easy to remove.  Having to pick out stitches when you make a mistake, and you will from time to time, is a challenge but it can be done, carefully.

6. Do Not Use Steam: a dry, hot iron is your friend.  We don't want to make pulp.

7. In this pattern there are some background squares cut 2.5" then cut in half for 36 triangles.  There are other background squares cut 2.75" then cut in half for 8 triangles.  Once cut in half, these look very similar.  To avoid mixing them up I label the larger ones and I label the paper pattern with "Big" to show where those 8 larger triangles go:

8. Having made several Feathered Star quilts, I am very familiar with the "kite" shape. I find it helpful to have the shape look like it really looks when paper piecing, it just has to be somewhat larger than it would be for precise piecing.  To cut the kite in this pattern, start with four 5" squares, stacked right sides together.  Cut those in half to form triangles.  Place the long side of the triangle up, and use a ruler to measure over 5" from the outside corner.  The small triangle cut off is waste, the "kites" are exactly the right shape, just bigger:

9. The Diamond Tips:  I do a similar thing to cut the 8 diamond tips for the star.  A strip 1.75" x 28", folded in half will give you the fabric needed for the 8 diamonds:

Use a 45 degree ruler to cut the selvedge away on the diagonal

Measure 1.75" over from the cut edge, creating "slices" that are 1.75" wide, these are oversize diamonds

Continue to cut a total of 4 pairs of diamonds for 8 total, cutting each 1.75" wide

10.  When sewing the units together, the very best advice comes from Sue: machine baste with a long stitch those places where several fabrics meet.  This star has lots of those places--I am happy to baste, check, take apart, baste again, be happy, then set the stitch length back for normal sewing and sew the seams once, correctly.

11. More tips from Sue:  read the pattern before starting, maybe more than once.  Wait to remove the paper until all the units are made.  Lay out the units to be sure you have the units in the right place.  Once you have all the units made and they are all correct, remove the paper carefully, then piece the units together, using an accurate 1/4" seam allowance.

I'm eager to see how my fabric choices come together.  Someone teased me about the old Hoffman that is my focus fabric.  Fortunately, fabric doesn't go "bad" sitting in the closet, waiting for the just the right project. So far:

For the group, I demoed sewing the last two units so I could show the various steps of paper piecing.  On The Quilt Show there are terrific instructions and videos for all these steps.  The current show, #2001, features the maker of the sample quilt and she has great tips too.  You can't go wrong with a Sue Garman pattern and all the support from The Quilt Show--no association other than being a totally satisfied member of this worldwide Quilt Guild.  This pattern alone is worth more than the cost of one year's membership.

Here are the friends in our group, The Sunday Sew and Sews.  Stay tuned to see how they do over this year:

Let's Quilt!



  1. Thank you for these excellent pointers. I have my pattern printed and notebook ready, I have most of what I will need for background, and I have pulled a good sized selection for the colors. I plan to get started this week (after I get a bit farther along on En Provence - first two blocks are completed).

  2. I am not making this quilt, but I have made a few feathered stars. You give some really good tips here. This group is very lucky to have you tutor them along in the process.

  3. Great pointers! Thanks for sharing!!! I may be using several backgrounds as I had no idea how challenging it would be to find a bolt with 11 yards of fabric on it! :) I'm going to be behind on this project. . .but, that is okay.

  4. Great tips and a beautiful center star!

  5. I appreciate the time you took to share this info. I am a pre-beginner with paper piecing. I've watched a lot of videos and read a bit - but, only tried a couple of blocks. they turned out 'ok'-but, I haven't seemed to get 'hooked' on this technique - it confuses me. I *do* want to feel like I can *do* it if I want to - so, will try again. I'm sure your pointers will help... :-)

    1. You can do it. Slow and steady, those small stitches make the paper easy to remove--the part most people dislike about paper piecing. I love the precision I get.

  6. Thanks for the great tips. Wonderful idea to use several fabrics for background! Thank goodness I'm behind and haven't purchased 11 yards yet! :)

  7. Beautiful quilt--learning paper piecing is on my bucket list

  8. Fantastic tips. I think I'm ready to get started now

  9. You've got a great group of gals gathered together for this venture!! It'll be fun to watch the quilts come to life!! :)

  10. Thank you Barbara for your additional hints. I am finding them very helpful. There is one thing I am struggling with and that is which way to press seams when I am assembling the block. Can you help this Aussie quilter out.

    1. Yes, Robyn. Press toward the path of least resistance, toward the larger pieces with less seams. I've sent you a photo by email showing the back of my star.