How to Foundation Paper Piece – Part 4



These are my top tips for foundation paper piecing some of them will be familiar if you have read the previous 3 parts of my “how to foundation paper piece” guide.   Read them here – Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Everyone paper pieces differently; you get some really accurate piecers, and you also get some slightly more “It will be all right on the night style piecing”! I tend to land somewhere in the middle of these two styles. I really like to use every scrap of fabric and of course sometimes I get things wrong and fudge them and that’s ok in my eyes!   

1 – Make notes on the paper. Some patterns are confusing and it can be tricky to remember which fabrics go where.  To make the process quicker either write a word or mark a colour on the pattern to help you sew the right fabric next. 

2 – If you are using more than 3 fabrics or colours are similar make a reference page with swatches stuck or sewn on and labelled to refer back to and check scraps against.

3 – As a beginner and for complex blocks pin the sections to a board or design wall to see how they will eventually be sewn together.  This helps you to keep an overview of how they will go together and I like to see my progress.   

4 – Glue basting first and last fabrics.  When I learnt about this it was a game changer. I was not stabbing myself with pins or warping seams when unbasted fabric shifted while sewing.   I use a super cheap kids Pritt stick and I try to use as little as possible.

5 – Use fabric efficiently by folding over paper pattern backwards along seam to check you have enough fabric and you are not creating much waste.  This is difficult to explain in writing so I have done a video.

Alternatively, I’ve broken it down into little steps to help you understand.     

  • Fold the paper pattern back on itself along the seam line so the printed sides are touching. 
  • Select a scrap or section of fabric you think will be big enough.
  • Hold the fabric finished side to finished side against the block.
  • Line-up the new fabric to the seam allowance.
  • Holding fabric and block with both thumbs and first fingers I flip backwards and forwards to check the fabric covers the whole area. 
  • If the pattern it is large or I’m struggling to see through the copy paper I make sure I have folded the pattern where the next seam will be and hold my fingers where the fabric needs to finish as I flip backwards and forwards

6 – Prep and piece multiple areas at a time either on one section or multiple sections.    This means you save a little time not going back and forth between the cutting mat and sewing machine.  I suggest only doing this once you are confident and when areas on the same section are not next to each other. 

7 – Fray Check – I occasionally screw up a little and don’t allow quite enough fabric.  The area I want is covered but after use the fabric might give on the seam.  Obviously try to avoid this but sometimes you only notice once it’s too late or don’t have enough fabric to redo … shhhh… don’t tell anyone.  A small section of lightweight iron-on interfacing can also help after the paper has been removed. 

8 – When joining sections, line up the important/obvious fabric intersections first and not corners.  If the corners are slightly out it doesn’t matter much as long as you take any difference into account when sewing a perpendicular seam to the one which is out.    

9 – Don’t be afraid of Y-seams! To be honest I have never had a problem with Y-seams but I think it’s because I didn’t know they were scary and didn’t mind un-picking and do a lot of pinning/ clipping and taking it slow! I have done a video showing the making of my nice iced ring back block which you can see here if you want to know more.  Happy Sew Lucky also has a good video here.

10 – A victory lap round the block when you finish helps to ensure seams stay flat around the edge and do not pull apart.   If I’m not going to be quilting much over the panel, I also like to iron a lightweight interfacing on once I have removed the papers.  I do also love to starch from the back (before interfacing) to make my block nice and crisp!

11 – Scrap bin for each project.  If I’m working on multiple projects at once, I like to have a scrap bin for each where I store any offcuts (unless smaller than ½” or 1.5cm) in case I have a purpose for them.  I then also don’t have to hunt through too many scraps.  Then when I have finished the project I can easy sort those scraps into my main scrap storage. 

12 – The seam ripper is your friend – don’t be afraid you use it!  It’s ok to get things wrong. If you’re not happy with a block, take a section apart or just part of a seam. I have done “surgery” on my blocks many times as you will have seen on my Instagram stories if you follow me!

How To Foundation Paper Piece – Part 2


Basic Principles and Piecing a Section

This is the second in a 4-part series “How to Foundation Paper Piece”.  If you have not already please read my previous blog post Part 1 –“Introduction, Patterns & Tools”

Basic Principles

FPP can be daunting and tricky to get your head around at the start, but once it clicks you will wonder why you found it so difficult!

The most important things to remember are:

  • You are sewing the fabric onto the back of the paper so you are creating a mirror image of what is on the front of the paper.
  • Make sure the fabric you are sewing on is the right way round and big enough.
  • Don’t think of it as one big whole just think about one section at a time. You can make notes on the paper if it helps, as it will be removed.
  • Take your time and enjoy it!

I am going to explain the process using my “Nice Iced Ring” Front Block Pattern.  You can find it here to purchase. I will try to explain in universal terms and then use photos and references of me doing my pattern.

Take any section of the block, I suggest starting with one that has the fewest and/or largest sections if you are new to FPP.  For my example I am using section E.

Fold along each of the seam lines between numbered sections – printed side to printed side.  The “Add a Quarter” ruler I use has a thin profile one side to make this easier.  Folding over your normal quilting rulers can create a double line due to their thickness.

Turn over the paper so the printed side is facing down.


Place a large enough piece of fabric over the whole of the first area (labelled 1 and in my example, it needs to be the fabric I selected for the icing). Remember to put it on the unprinted side of the paper, with the pattern/ printed side of the facing away from the paper.  This piece of fabric needs to be bigger than the area (labelled 1) by at least ¼” (seam allowance) on all sides (except any sides adjacent to the outside edge of the section where seam allowance as already marked).  To make sure of this I like to initially cut a piece of fabric a bit too big and then trim it down once it is held in place.


I use a small amount of glue stick (only on the area labelled 1) to hold the fabric in place and stop it moving while sewing or trimming. Some people just pin or use a long tacking stitch across the middle of the area to baste the fabric in place.

IMG_20200815_133528_01 (1)

Once stuck in place you need to trim the first bit of fabric down to the ¼” seam allowance.  Turn the section over so the fabric is facing the mat and the printed side of the paper is facing you.  Fold the paper back along each of the lines between area 1 and the other numbers in turn and use the ruler and rotary cutter to trim the excess off.

This is how my example looks now with the (icing) fabric covering area 1 plus a ¼” seam allowance on the adjacent sections and seam allowance at the bottom of the section.


My example the “Nice Iced Ring” front block, I am making without the icing detail so have treated areas ‘1’ and ‘2’ as one area (I crossed out the 2 on the paper to remind me).


Next, take some of the fabric for the area you want to cover (in this case 3).  In my pattern this is different to the fabric used in areas 1 & 2 as shown by the change of colour. The blue indicates the background.  This fabric should be bigger than the area you want to cover by at least ¼” on all sides. 


• • •

Getting the fabric the right shape and size and the right way round is the most difficult part of FPP.  Often people have tried FPP and then got confused and given up when they have tried several times and can’t get it right.  Conveniently this is where most guides use overly large bits of fabric and gloss over the fact that you can get it so wrong.

It is confusing because you are creating a mirror image on the back of the paper and then reversing it when you are lining up the section to sew it on (as you always sew the fabric on while its finished face is against the finished face of the fabric already attached to the pattern).

You can very easily think you have it right but open up the fabric when the seam is sewn and realise you’ve got it completely wrong! The fabric might have the print on the wrong side or the print the right side but shape wrong, or just not enough seam allowance.

There are a couple of easy ways to make sure this doesn’t happen:

  • Cut pre-prepared sections of fabric much bigger than you need and trim them down after sewing. Berene from “Happy Sew Lucky” explains how she does this on her YouTube channel –  I started by using this method but it is wasteful of fabric when not doing simple squares or rectangles.
  • Print out the pattern a second time and cut each area of the section apart. Place these on the fabric (wrong side of fabric to unprinted side of paper) and cut round them adding at least ¼” seam allowance on ALL sides.  Sugeridoo does this in her instructional video – have never used this method myself.

Personally, I use a method which allows me to use smaller scraps or efficiently cut from my main bit of fabric.  It is not an original idea but it is tricky to explain and I only recommend trying it once you have got the hang of the rest of the process! In essence you line up the new section of fabric with the existing one, fold the paper back along the seam you are going to sew so the printed sides of paper touch and flip the whole thing back and forth using your fingers as a visual reference to check the area is covered.  This is will be explained fully in my 4th part of this ‘how to’ series “Top tips and Tricks”.

• • •

Place this next bit of fabric face to face with the first fabric stuck to the paper.  Line it up along the trimmed edge of the first fabric which is adjacent to the length of the seam you are going to sew (for my example the line between areas ‘1’ & ‘3’) and with about ¼” or more at each end.


Pin the fabric in place.  Do this at both ends so nothing gets folded over while going through the machine.


With your machine on straight stitch at 1.5 length, sew along the line ONLY between the two areas (“1” & “3” in this example) with a lock stitch at the beginning and end.  Do not go further than this line at either end.

Unfold the fabric and press your fingers over the seam and then use your roller to flatten with firm pressure.

Now turn the section over so the finished fabric is on the mat and fold only the paper back along the seam lines yet to be sewn NOT the one you just sewed (on my block this is the lines between 3 and 5 and 3 and 6). Trim leaving 1/4” of the fabric past the folded paper.


This is what the trimmed fabric looks like on my example, it covers area 3 with a ¼” seam allowance on the unsewn sides.


Repeat the same process for area 4 and so on until the section is completely covered in fabric.

• • •

The next few photos show some of the stages to finish section E.  I have included them as the larger areas show the method more clearly.


This is how my example looks once the fabric has been sewn to area 4 and trimmed.


The fabric pinned and ready to sew for area 5.


The fabric sewn and trimmed for area 5.


Lining up the fabric for area 7.  Using my method of folding back the paper (printed side to printed side) to check the area of 7 will be covered once the fabric is sewn along the seam and opened up.  With this large section and large area of fabric I don’t need to flip it back and forward.


The paper unfolded and fabric pinned ready to sew section 7.  Note: I did areas 6 and 7 out of order as they don’t touch each other.


This is the fabric opened up for area 7 once the seam has been sewn but before the excess fabric is trimmed off.  When you trim this fabric off you can just trim round the paper pattern piece as the white area round the blue is the seam allowance for the section.


This is the view as per previous photo but from the fabric side.

• • •

Use the same process, from folding the seam lines, to complete all remaining sections for the whole block.  Once completing all sections, I tend to use a little bit of glue again to stick down the edges of the last bits of fabric to stop them shifting when sewing the blocks together.  Others use a long basting stitch all the way around each section to do the same job.

Next … Part 3 – Joining Sections

How To Foundation Paper Piece – Part 1


Introduction, Patterns & Tools

I found out about foundation paper piecing (FPP) a couple of years ago. On Instagram I came across beautiful small-pieced blocks with so much detail and decided to investigate how it was done.  I was determined to sew something so gorgeous and delicate.  I couldn’t fathom for the life of me how all the little pieces we so perfectly sewn.

I am an extremely practical person and my dyslexic brain’s super power is to visualize things in 3D and work out how things go together, so I was not daunted.  I found out it was a process called FPP and I downloaded and printed my first pattern, read a quick tutorial (no idea which one sorry!) and had a go.

I was hooked and didn’t struggle but soon learned others were intimidated or confused by the process.  I love encouraging and teaching my ‘in-person’ friends to sew, so it only feels right to try to help you online too.

I am going to go into a lot of detail, as most tutorials make it look simple and gloss over the tricky bits.  I hope you will find it useful.

There are 4 parts to this series:

  • Introduction, Patterns and Tools
  • Basic Principles and Piecing a Section
  • Joining Sections
  • My Top Tips

How patterns typically look…

An FPP pattern tends to have a page of written instructions describing the order the sections should be sewn together.  The designer may include diagrams to help explain how the block goes together and a colouring page (line drawings for you to test your colour combinations).  At the end of the document will be a number of pages containing the sections of the pattern to be printed at 100% and cut out.

The sections combine to make the whole block.  Some patterns will have more than one block.  For example, my “Nice Iced Ring” pattern you can get here contains a front and a back block.  Each section is labelled with a letter, and within each section are several smaller areas that are numbered. You sew the fabric onto the paper in numerical order.  Patterns assume you know how to do this – it is a generic method.

How to FPP is usually the same in principle but there are many variations.  I recommend reading and watching various tutorials, as each person will explain it slightly differently.  You can try the tips and tricks to see what works for you.  Ingrid of “Joe June and Mae” has a good example using a simple star pattern.  Berene Campbell of Happy Sew Lucky has a good You Tube channel.  Phoebe Moon Quilt Design also highlights the difficulties of FPP nicely in their Seven Deadly Sins article.


The essential items to FPP are;

  • Sewing machine with thread (set to straight stitch & length to 1.5).
  • 5-10 pins and at least 6 wonder clips (in the photo above between the roller and rotary cutter – NOT A SPONSORED LINK)
  • A pattern and instructions for putting sections together – whether a PDF to print or a book with them in to trace or photocopy.
  • Access to a printer or photocopier if you’re not tracing by hand.
  • Fabric – from your stash, bought on a special shopping trip or reused fabric (cotton ideally but silks can be very effective – fabric should be about quilting cotton weight).

*** I suggest if this is your first go at FPP to start only using solid fabrics.  Fabrics with 2 different sides (ie prints) add a level of confusion. With solids it doesn’t matter which side you sew.

The nice to have items are:

  • A Rotary Cutter & Cutting mat.  You can eyeball seams to ¼ inch and cut with a pair of scissors, but I find I cut the fabric too small as paper and fabric move when not pressed against the cutting board.
  • An Add a Quarter ruler (yellow in above image – pink in link as charity version -NOT A SPONSORED LINK). This makes trimming the seam allowances to a good size super easy with a rotary cutter.  The ridge on the reverse helps to hold the ruler in the right place when using the cutter.
  • A seam roller (NOT A SPONSORED LINK) to flatten the seams as much as possible – alternatively you can press open with your fingers and iron.

NOTE: my seam roller was bought as a gift and as such is actually for wallpapering and not aimed at sewing – sewing ones tend to be wooden and have a slightly rounded barrel.  I find mine works well but I do need to be careful if I don’t evenly press the fabric as it can dig in – but these marks do disappear after ironing and subsequent sewing into finished items.

  • Foundation paper to trace or print the pattern onto. This is specialist paper which allows you to see through it and tear it off easily. In the UK I recommend Foundation Paper by Pattern Trace (NOT A SPONSORED LINK).  I will do a review post for this paper in the near future.  Note: I don’t recommend drawing tracing paper as it rips too easily once sewn and may come off before you want it to, especially if you have to unpick and redo a seam.


I have provided links to example products and I encourage you to buy from independent sewing shops where possible.

Printing the pattern from PDF

Increasingly it’s become more popular to download these patterns online as they are relatively inexpensive and easy to deliver.  Plus printing them is a lot quicker than tracing.

Patterns are almost always in a PDF (portable document format), one of the easiest file types to view and transfer without losing data/detail.  I use Adobe Acrobat Reader, a free downloadable software, which allows me to view and easily print these documents.  Printing the pattern at 100% scale should be very similar in whichever software you use.

Once you have the pattern file open, go to file and print or click on the printer logo.  In the command box select “Actual size” or “100%”.  You can also select just the pages containing the pattern sections if you don’t need to print out the instruction pages.

screen print 100%

Do a test print of just one page.  Patterns tend to have a 1” reference box so you can double check with a ruler that it’s the correct size.  Once you are happy print all pages required.

Copying by hand

If you have a book or one copy of a paper pattern you can trace the section pieces onto more paper as many times as you want.  You may need to tape your paper to a window to see the lines. Ideally use pencil so no marks are later transferred to the fabric and make sure you copy the lines as accurately as possible.


If you are working from a book you can photocopy the pattern pages multiple times (on your preferred paper type) but again make sure the copier is not scaling down your pages.  Test print as above.


If this happens don’t panic and waste paper printing it again immediately.  If you are doing a stand-alone block (not matching it to full size blocks) you can still go ahead and use it, it will just be a slightly different size to that advertised.

Double-check your print settings, and try other programs (most internet browsers can handle PDFs as well). If needs be, you can always scale up/down in the print settings, but be warned it is tricky to get the size precisely right this way, so it should be a last resort.

Once you have got the hang of FPP it’s actually really fun to print the patterns at different scales to produce smaller or larger versions.  Just be careful when you go smaller as the pieces can become too small and the seams get too bulky to sew or quilt.  Equally, making a block too large can make it look overly simple.


Finally, you need to cut out all pattern pieces (this doesn’t need to be done exactly) and check you have all sections required in the pattern instructions.  I also like to have a copy of the instructions in paper format to easily check what I’m doing.  I pop anything I’m not working on in a folder or box as they can be little and get easily lost in a pile of fabric or scraps.