Tuesday, 29 July 2014

How to Paper Piece

Introduction to Paper Piecing- The Tartankiwi
A lot of people are intimidated by paper piecing, but I'm here to tell you that its really not that difficult. If you can count and sew a straight line, you can paper piece.

It may take you a wee while to get used to the logic of the process, but once you do, you'll be off and running!

Now when it comes to paper piecing, I would encourage you to play around. Try different things, if my method doesn't work for you, I won't be offended, just please don't give up!

Try somebody else's method, they may be a bit more or less exact in their method or explain it in a way that makes more sense to you. There are lots and lots of different variations on paper piecing technique so its important to find the method that works for you.

Here are a few links to different paper piecing tutorials. As you can see, the basis of the technique stays the same, but the details can vary quite a bit:
The method that I learnt first
Glue Basting
Paperless Paper Piecing
A different order of work
Folded Freezer Paper Piecing (I have yet to try this but am intrigued- imagine not having to pull your paper out at the end!?

Personally I love seeing everybody's variations on paper piecing and adapting my technique from what I've learnt.


I've broken my method down into a few simple steps. Its paper piecing at its most basic, but once you've mastered this you can refine the subtleties of your technique.

This tutorial is based on the simple butterfly pattern, which you can find here.

The original pattern creates a 5 inch finished block. You can alter the size of the block by photocopying/ enlarging the pattern as shown below:

For a 14 inch butterfly block enlarge at 280%
For a 12 inch butterfly blocks enlarged at 240%
For a 10 inch butterfly blocks enlarged at 200%
For a 8 inch butterfly blocks enlarged at 160%
For a 6 inch butterfly blocks enlarged at 120%

My patterns all include a 1/4 inch seam allowance around the paper pieces. Remember to cut your seam allowances down to 1/4 inch once you have enlarged the pattern pieces.

Ensure that you reduce the stitch size on your sewing machine. You want the stitches nice and small so that there are lots of perforations in the paper and it is easy to tear away at the end. Don't make them too small though as this will tear the paper and also be a nightmare if you have to unpick anything! Stitch sizes vary on different machines, but on my machine a good paper piecing stitch length is about 1.75- 1.5.

If you like, you can colour your pattern in or write notes to yourself on the pattern indicating which fabrics should be used where.

Measure and cut your first fabric piece to size. I tend to cut a rectangle that is it at least 1/2 inch bigger than the piece that I am working on.

Paper piecing has a bit of a reputation for being wasteful of fabric, but this really comes down to the individual. I re-use many of the scraps that are trimmed away later in the block and I save small scraps for other projects- you never know when a teeny tiny piece will come in handy!

Place your paper pattern printed side down on the desk.
 Place your fabric right side up on top of the paper. (**Please note that with Oakshott fabrics there isn't a right and wrong side, but I am writing it this way for anybody who may decide to use this tutorial for printed fabrics**).

What you should pay attention to with Oakshott cotton is the orientation of the fabric. Because the warp and the weft threads are different colours, the light catches the fabric differently when it is rotated and can appear a different shade. I would encourage you to think about how and if you want to make use of this effect.

Now hold the pile of paper and fabric up to the light. Ensure that the fabric covers the edges of piece number one (which I have outlined in red in the picture) and overlaps by more than 1/4 inch in all directions. If the pattern piece that you are working on is at the edge of the page, your fabric should always cover the seam allowance and have a small amount of fabric overlapping the edge of the paper.

Pin the fabric in place with a single pin. I like to make sure that if I pin, the pin is well away from the line that I am going to sew.

Place your fabric for piece A2 right side down on top of fabric piece number A1. Now carefully lift the whole pile up to the light again. Check that the majority of the fabric is on top of piece number 1, but that the edge overlaps the printed line between piece number 1 and piece number 2 by about more than 1/4 inch.

In the diagram, I have outlined the fabric that I am using for piece A2 in blue and I have highlighted the line that I am going to sew in red. 

If you are unsure whether you are about to sew your seam correctly, gently fold the fabric for piece A2 over and check that it covers the paper shape A2 on all sides.

Carefully manoeuvre your pile of fabric and paper into your sewing machine. You are going to sew down the line between part A1 and A2. Ensure that it is printed paper side UP and that none of the fabrics move as you position it in the machine.

Sew a straight line (again, make sure that you are using a short stitch length). Start exactly on the end of the line and if your fabric piece goes to the edge of the paper, keep sewing into the seam allowance, till the edge of the paper.

Anchor your stitches at both ends (we don't want it coming undone when you take the papers out do we!?)

Gently fold the fabric for piece A2 over. Hold it up to the light and ensure that it generously covers paper shape A2.
If it doesn't, CAREFULLY unpick.
If it does then unfold fabric piece A2.
Fold the paper back along the stitched line. Place your ruler along the seam and allowing a ¼ inch seam allowance, trim the edges.

(This step was especially important for this quilt as without it the colours from the dark oakshott cottons would seep through the cream background fabric.)
see how the darker fabric colours leach through if you don't trim your seam allowances!

Lay your paper flat again. Fold fabric piece A2 so that it covers paper shape A2 of the pattern and press it in position.

Repeat the basic process from "measure" (skipping over "the first piece") until you have pieced all the paper sections that you need for the quilt.

If you need some help accurately sewing you papers together, I have previously written some tips and tricks.

Sewing should be fun! If you are having one of those days where nothing works properly, take a step back, have a cup of tea and try again another day!

If anything is unclear or you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

If I find the time, would anybody be interested in a tutorial on how to cope with difficult angles in paper piecing?

Don't forget to put your new found paper piecing skills to the test and join in The Butterfly Challenge- there are some awesome prizes up for grabs!

The Tartankiwi
This post is based on the paper piecing tutorial which I previously posted on Lily's Quilts. That post also contains the pattern for the oakshott butterfly quilt shown in the Butterfly Challenge button.

I'll be back soon with a few other paper piecing tips.

You can find my tips on printing paper pieced patterns at the right size here.
You can find my tips on paper piecing awkward angles here. 
You can find my tips on sewing your papers together here.


  1. Yes any tips on coping with difficult angles or on how you do the tiny pieces?

  2. Give 3 advantages and 3 disadvantages of the paper-based piecing technique. Alysia.


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