Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Paper Piecing Tips- Sewing Papers Together

A while ago I asked what people find the most intimidating thing about paper piecing. Opinions were split between those scared of small pieces and those who don't like sewing their paper pieces together.

As I was sewing together this Kereru (NZ Wood Pigeon) block, it occurred to me that I could use it to give a few wee pointers and show how I join my papers. Its important to emphasise that this is what works for me. It may not work for you. That's absolutely fine! I really think that the important thing with paper piecing is the adapt your technique until you find a method that works for you.

For me there are several things that help when it comes to neatly joining paper pieces:

Most important is to press your seams neatly. I know, I know a lot of people find this stage a hassle but it really does help to create great results. Every now and then I try finger pressing, but I almost invariably regret it as the results are just not as good! There are various tools out there that can be used to avoid having to stand and press your seams, I haven't tried any of these so I can't speak from personal experience but I've heard some rave reviews. If you use them feel free to comment and tell you what your experiences are.

When I look at a foundation paper piecing pattern, the first thing that I do is to look for critical points. By this I mean that there are generally one or two points which will be more noticeable if you get them wrong. Mismatching them will lead to jumps in outlines or ugly corners. I always try to identify these points and concentrate on matching them as accurately as possible.

I have used red lines to mark the places where the papers join on the following picture and I have circled the points which I regard as being critical to match up accurately. As you can see there are quite a few joins that I am not quite so bothered about and this gives me a certain amount of leeway where necessary.

 Once I have identified a critical point, I put a pin straight through the point that I want to match. It is really important that the pin not only goes through the right place on the paper, but also the right place in the fabric. This is where you will notice if you have been sloppy with your ironing!

Leave this pin standing straight through the paper.

Now ensure that the papers and fabrics are lying neatly lined up on top of each other and take another pin. Use this pin to anchor the two paper pieces together. If you want extra security you can also anchor on the other side of the straight up and down pin too.
This step is ridiculously difficult to clearly photograph. The pin with the bow on the end is anchoring the two pieces. The sun shaped pin is the up and down pin which is critical for lining the pieces up.

The purpose of the straight up and down pin is to ensure that the two paper pieces stay right on top of each other and are not pushed aside when you place pins.

When there are a couple of critical points on the seam that you are working on, then ensure that you do this process at both points. If the seam is very long you probably need to do this process at least twice.

Now set the stitch length on your machine to the longest setting. Stitch along the line. I tend to keep the straight up and down pin in as long as possible but you can take it out before you sew, its up to you!

Once the seam has been sewn with large stitches, open the pieces up and have a look how you've done.

If you are not happy with the join then you can easily unpick the long stitches and try again. 

If you are happy then go back and sew along the seam using the short stitch length that you normally use for paper piecing. Try to sew exactly over the long stitches. I tend to leave these longs stitches in, but if they bother you and you have the patience to do it, feel free to unpick them.

As a final note, it is worth considering how you press the seams on the paper joins. Sometimes you will find that joins which have been matched perfectly look wrong in the finished block. This generally happens when the joins are bulky. In these cases it is worth pressing your seams open to decrease bulk.

I really think that joining pieces accurately makes the difference between mediocre and excellent paper piecing so its worth taking the effort to do it as well as you can.

I hope that my explanation makes sense, its hard to explain and even harder to take photos of. If you have any questions ask them below and I'll see if I can help.

This is the final block for my bird quilt- I can't wait to put the quilt top together!!!
Had to share this... I was photobombed!
I'll save a photo of all the blocks together until I have finished the quilt top (but if you're impatient you can see it in my instagram feed!

I'm sharing at WIP Wednesday over at Freshly Pieced


  1. Your block is gorgeous Juliet, I look forward to the photo of them all together!! I agree, a little extra time spent pressing and fiddling with up and down and side by side pins really helps - love your perfect join-up photo! (And the photo bombing - priceless!)

  2. Photo bombing PERFECTION!
    I admire your paper piecing ! I am a total novice at it and it scares me so much I've offered to test a pattern for someone! Bahahaha why not test something that scares you aye

  3. I love your Kereru :) Cant wait to see it all come together! and I get your explanation, but then again it may be cause that's they way I do it thanks for help from you! And I agree - getting the joins tidy makes such a difference to the presentation of a block!

  4. I love your patterns, they make it very easy to match up the seams due to the shape ends. Thanks for your tutorial it has some great information.

  5. All makes perfect sense, Juliet. I do like the idea of the long stitches then checking to see if it all lines up. Much easier to take out the stitches if it doesn't line up.

  6. I do find it interesting how different people accomplish the same things. I pretty much never press any seams. I use pins to hold the fabric in place. (Through the seam.) I place a straight through pin on each end and then one through any middle section that needs to line up.

    It also makes a big difference to have a great pattern to work from. (Yours :) ) I know sewing with your patterns has given me greater confidence with my paper piecing skills.

  7. Great post Juliet matching up the paper pieces at the end is definitely my least favourite part of paper piecing, but hopefully not any more !

  8. Great tips, Juliet, when I finally get around to paper piecing I'll be sure to reread it!

  9. Both blocks are gorgeous.I love birds. Thanks for the tips.
    valspierssews (wip wed 160)

  10. Two years later and this tip is still as relevant now as the day you posted it. With the pace of technology now days it's ironic that the old saying 'if it's not broken don't fix it' - comes into play. Good techniques are often best left "just as they are!!" - absolutely love your message to aspiring paper piecers like myself 🤗


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