Foundation Paper Piecing: Tips from a First-Timer

It’s official; I’ve finally tried foundation paper piecing and I think I’m in love!

I bought the Flight Delight Quilt Kit quite a while ago, but have been too nervous to give it a go. I’m a visual learner, so the idea of trying to understand how foundation paper piecing works without a ton of pictures was a stressful proposition to me.

Sparkles Mini Quilt by Jemima Flendt from her book Weekend Quilting

Luckily, my reluctance to start has been rewarded! Jemima Flendt, the author of Weekend Quilting, is teaching an on-demand online course called Foundation Paper Piecing Made Easy. I’ve watched the first few lessons, and I’m happy to report this technique is much easier than I expected.

Through video tutorials and written instructions, Jemima makes it easy to learn how to successfully paper piece. We start with a simpler block from her Sparkles Mini Quilt design that uses larger pieces to learn the technique before moving onto her more intricate butterfly paper piecing pattern.

While I wouldn’t say I knocked it out of the park on the first try, I do feel like my first block helped me understand how paper piecing works and how to improve my technique for future blocks and (gasp!) an entire paper pieced quilt.

Here are a few tips I learned from my first foray into paper piecing with Jemima’s guidance:

My first finished block made by foundation paper piecing.

Small Stitches are the key to foundation-pieced happiness. Jemima suggests a stitch length of 1.5-1.8 because it leaves you with a sturdier stitch once you tear away the paper. Although I had my stitch length set in this zone, I think my stitches were either too long or my tension was slightly off. When I tore my paper it looked like a few of my stitches were pulling. This is where a practice piece comes in handy. Next time, I will make a practice block to check my tension and to make sure my stitch length will allow for easy paper removal.

Don’t forget to back it up! When piecing blocks for a quilt top I almost never backstitch at the beginning or end of my seams. While it isn’t (usually) a problem for other quilt blocks, that practice is a no-go for foundation piecing. It’s important that we backstitch at the beginning and end of our seams; otherwise we will pull out stitches while attempting to remove the paper. Since I’ve never used paper in my piecing, I found the edge of the paper to be the best visual cue to remind me to backstitch.

It’s ok to break the chain. I love to chain piece; it’s efficient and it’s quick so I feel like I make more progress in a shorter amount of time. After a successful result on my first block, I boldly thought I’d see if I could integrate my love of chain making into foundation piecing. The first seam of each block was good, the second seam was also pretty good, and then I must have gotten a little too big for my boots because the third seams were all a mess. Paper piecing is about precision. My next blocks weren’t nearly as accurate as my first because I was trying to speed things up. I’ve already learned that it’s better to stay slow, in control, and be happy with the final block than it is to finish quickly.

My fourth fabric got folded up because I was going too fast. Seam ripper to the rescue!

When in doubt, rip it out. The seam ripper and I don’t always get along. I’m embarrassed to admit that I lazily refuse to use it when I should and instead opt for creative pressing. This doesn’t fly with foundation paper piecing. In many ways this method is easier than regular piecing because you are tracing the lines with stitches. If your line gets a little off, it’s not the end of the world. But if you’ve got folds, tucks, or stitches significantly out of line, it’s time to grab the seam ripper and try again.

I can’t wait to make more foundation paper piecing blocks so I can continue to refine my skills before taking on my quilt kit. I was completely amazed by how well my first block turned out and how nice the points were. There’s no way I could have had the same result on the first try without the foundation paper. I think this might just become my new favorite quilting technique.

If you’re ready to give it a try, register for your seat in Jemima’s online course Foundation Paper Piecing Made Easy. When you sign up you’ll be able to instantly download all of the course materials including video, instructions, and templates. Plus, you’ll be able to ask Jemima questions, interact with your fellow classmates, and show your progress. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!

Happy quilting,

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