How To Foundation Paper Piece – Part 1

HOW TO FOUNDATION PAPER PIECE

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Photocopying

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.

NOT PRINTED AT 100%

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.

… have some exciting news coming soon… & a real life logo….

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No mum I’m not having another baby!! Or am I …

For absolutely ages I have been saying to people “One day I’m going to design some sewing patterns and sell them”, partially I think to justify why I do so much sewing and partially as a stay at home mum I need to validate myself.

Well, a few months ago I decided enough was enough and I need to pull up my big girl pants (size 18 to be exact) and get the hell on with it! I had some ideas sitting in the “one day” drawer at the back of my mind and one day I literally put everything else away and started experimenting …..

Once I had an initial pattern I needed to work out how to convert it into an electronic format. I’m sure it’s not the typical way a quilter designs but I used my CAD software from my days designing and detailing buildings.  I had to really dig around in the old memory bank from my days at uni using graphics software for the colouring, formatting and laying out the patterns but I got there.

Of course you need a logo to make your work identifiable so I played around with many options for almost as long as I took on the pattern designs.

So here it is!

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My amateur branding that I’m very proud of!   No it won’t work as an actual FPP pattern (though I really want to make one or two to go above my desk/s) but it gives the essence of what I do.  Ever practical I have kept it black and white so it goes with any of my colours of the moment or my patterns.

I have three blocks coming your way very soon (they are currently with testers or will be very soon) and I’m working on my shop around my two little darlings who are at home for the summer.

… and of course I will be having a release sale!!!.  Also did you know it’s my birthday soon…… And yes mum I do want fabric supplies and yes “And Sew I …” is your new grandchild.

…started quilting badly…

Work in Progress

Decided on how to quilt the big girls quilt and having finished the other one I was working on I cracked straight on!! Stitches and machine tested all good!!! Or so I thought!…

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No I noticed a few stitches were skipped! Being me I carried on hoping it would stop and I really wanting to feel like I was make some progress! Eventually I stopped in despair and turned to my trusty quilting Facebook group and a friend came to the rescue.  Turns out after refilling the bobbin something was catching! I must remember not to panic till I have re threaded it completely and cleaned it out and given it a new needle! 99% of problems solved by those.

With the stitching solved it was great I could crack on but again I rushed and didn’t properly mark my diagonal lines so ended up with a load of wonky lines.  Need to also look at the quilt from a distance as I missed this by not looking at it from a distance.

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Now to find my trusty unpicked… And then masking tape to mark the lines to follow!

… Another finished quilt..

Finished Makes

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This I started last summer while pregnant and building work was going on.. as you do when you have no energy and loads to do.

The fabric is a Robert Kaufman range by Carolyn Friedlander – Botanics.  I bought the jelly roll at Sandown when big girl was the age baby is now so – 4 years ago.  The fabrics attracted me because of there slightly architectural look and had a colour gradient!  Diving straight in making up as I went along, I played with mixing the fabrics with unsatisfactory results.  I subsequently grouped the colours in rows of 5 to a gradient.  The grey gradient didn’t really work so I did some un-picking and made the central strip dark and gradient out.  The grey group then evolved into the central section and 2 colour types splitting either side.  Then I decided to add another level and make it a stack/ stitch/ slice and flip quilt with some of the light fabrics from the jelly rolls as sashing.  Left overs from the rolls was mixed bold and light to make the binding.

I managed to finished the top before Christmas and then basted it while 8.5 months pregnant with 2 other projects – It was a good time to be crawling around on the floor!!.  A couple of weeks ago I dragged it out to work on while I struggled with what to do with my big girls quilt.

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I made up how I was going to straight line quilt it as I went along.  Echoing the seams and doing double rows to high light the flipped section and central dark grey horizontally.  The husband liked the larger gaps you see but I think I should possibly have gone for denser quilting.   I also need to work on consistency with the spacing between rows.

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The attention to detail I paid when pecicing has paid off as it was all pretty square so an improvement there.  While quilting a couple of the seams on the top started to come loose which is annoying but possibly down to trimming or maybe I need to lock the stitches at the end of each row.

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Press ganged my twin nieces into holding the quilt so I could photograph it! I think I’m going to have to make them quilts at some point soon based on there reaction! Only problem is I know there will want harry potter and not something timeless!

Best thing about quilting is the appreciation and praise I get! Especially from this one who has adopted this quilt pending completion of her own!

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…Playing with kids toys…

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I had a similar toy to this and loved playing with it and making the patterns which I think its why I bought it for my big girl.  Until now its not been a huge interest for her but she dug it out the cupboard and I couldn’t resist having a play with it too.

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There are some lovely EPP patterns here but I am slightly struggling to get past the primary colours.  Also to make something of a decent size would take me centuries at my current rate so thinking about speeding it up/ modifying the process of an impatient person like me.  They also all seem to make up a hexagon or triangle.  I enjoyed working out how to make more difficult shapes repeat.

 

…Stitch & Bitch #2

Stitch and Bitch

I forgot to take a photo again!! This just shows how much of a great time I’m having.  There were 4 of us this time.  2 from last time and 2 who couldn’t make it before.  I was sewing on the binding for a UFO, there was also knitting, crochet and embroidery. Lots of chat, really positive stuff about rediscovery of you after loosing your identity having children and realising that worrying about what other people think about you is bullshit (sorry mum I know you hate me swearing).  Also just doing something creative for the process and not worrying about the outcome! Thanks ladies lovely to spend time with you once again! xxx

… Throwback Thursday #4

Finished Makes, Throwback Thursday

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Mug Rugs!!! I love them,  so much better than a boring coaster and they also soak up any spills or condensation.  These rainbow strips I got as samples from a long shut down website/ shop – Strawberry Fayre.  I had to do something with these strip how ever small. I was not precious so just sewed them together really quick (had to be a colour gradient) not even fussing about even rows and then grab batting, backing and bias binding from the stash of leftovers.  In total about an hour was spent on the two and it got me back into sewing and a mental break after the baby.

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…had a very happy weekend meeting up with an old flame…

Day out, Work in Progress

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I couple of weeks ago I bumped into an old horse friend from my sharing days before children.  I literally shouted across the stable yard “I know you” to buy time till I could remember her name! Catching up with news on the old horses and people I was encouraged and now able to get in contact with the owner of my old horse share.  This weekend I went to see her and the second love of my life ROSS!

How beautiful is he.. doesn’t look a day older and certainly not his 26 years!!! Unfortunately, his mummy can’t quite get down as much as she would like to give him some love so I am going to go down and see him hopefully once a week for a chat, groom walk-out and maybe some lunging.  I can’t wait! Unfortunately, being out of the saddle so long, the weight I have put on since having my big girl and his increased years means I don’t think it would be fair to ride him.  Maybe something to remember as I reach for the biscuits, cake or chocolate.  I expect one day soon he will feature in some kind of sewing.  I fancy trying a raw edge applique..

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In other news, the summer holidays are here and I’m spending lots of time with both my girls.  I’m trying to pace myself and doing quiet sitting activities as much as possible.  At the first stitch and bitch I was shown a you tube video and it included a simple braiding with cardboard circle so I though I would try it with my big girl.  She can do it and does it but it looses her attention quite quickly which is to be expected at 4 1/2yrs.  I on the other hand am finding it quite addictive!

Over the last couple of weeks I have been working on a UFO started last summer.  I jelly roll I can’t remember its name but had it for a few years without having the courage to do something with it.  I will do full post on it once its finished but hear is a sneak peak…. just the binding to hand stitch.

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…bought two quilt books… found my others… and had a little surprise…

Purchase

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I could these 2 books for a bargain £12 posted.  Really wanted the foundation paper piecing one as I love the blue quilt and want to do some paper piecing but not just going at it! Actually following some good instructions.  This is why I have not started the Tuffet yet as I’m petrified I will bugger it up as I have tweaked it/ strayed  from the pattern and don’t want to regret just going at it!

 

I have also been looking high and low for my first ever quilting book as there is a pattern in there that I want to make.  I may have had the fabric and pattern for over 6 years so its pretty high up my make list (which is all in my head).

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Lastly, found with my first book was a right surprise! A few weeks ago I saw on UK quilters united a folded fabric colour gradient star cushion – saved the picture and asked for more info.. looked up the book and decided I didn’t have enough time at the moment but logged it in the memory….. I have that book… my mummy got it for me many moons ago not sure when exactly…. Also its signed and dedicated to me… its a funny old world.  I remember mum giving me the book a few years ago and me writing it off as way too old fashioned… maybe I’m getting old fashioned!

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