How to Read Paper Piecing Quilt Patterns

Lamp block designed by Penny Layman from The Paper-Pieced Home.

If you’ve ever tried them, you know that paper piecing quilt patterns can be difficult to decipher. Often it seems like they are written in a different language. Plus, the process of paper piecing can seem backward when you first start learning this sewing technique.

Don’t let these minor roadblocks stop you from trying paper piecing!

Once you become more comfortable with the process and learn how to read your paper piecing quilt patterns it will be smooth sailing. After all, when you get down to the brass tacks, paper piecing is as easy as sewing a straight line.

In Penny Layman’s book The Paper-Pieced Home, she explains everything you need to know so you can paper piece like a pro. The first step to paper piecing success is to learn how to use and read your pattern. Penny makes her patterns even easier to use by adding tick marks and green dots that indicate more clearly how to best line up the fabrics and where to start and stop sewing. Penny’s unique patterns are easy to read, but more importantly, they are fun to make and sew charming!

Here is a great explanation from Penny excerpted from her book:

Using your pattern:

You will be sewing fabrics to the unprinted side of the printed pattern, with the fabric right side down and the printed pattern right side up (wrong sides together). Because of this, your finished block will be the reverse of the printed paper pattern.

Template of the Lamp block.

Tip: If you’re using a pattern that is not colored in, be sure to color in each area or mark the area with the color of fabric you will use before you start so you don’t get confused and sew the wrong fabric to an area. Colored pencils work well for this.

Here is a list of the different lines and notations you will find on the patterns and what they mean:

Numbers: Each pattern area is labeled with a number. You’ll piece the areas of each section in numerical order, from 1 through the highest number.

Tick Marks: When a pattern has more than one section, it’s helpful to have tick marks on the cutting lines to aid in positioning the sections as you sew them back together. Tick marks are indicated by short red lines that cross the blue cutting lines.

Green Dots: The final mark you will need to be aware of is a green dot, which indicates a Y-seam. When you see a green dot near the end of a sewing line, do not sew past the end of the printed sewing line near the dot.

Take your paper piecing prowess to the next level as you discover clever and charming designs by Penny. Her instructions and templates make this technique easy to learn and understand. Order your copy of The Paper-Pieced Home or download the eBook to get started today.

Happy piecing!

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