Monday, January 19, 2015

Tutorial: Paper Piecing

The other day, I decided to make a block from a book I got for Christmas: Vintage Quilt Revival, written by Katie Clark Blakesley, Lee Heinrich, and Faith Jones (love all their blogs, by the way!). I love flipping through this book, and I've been dying to make something from it! I decided to finally sit down and sew from it.

And, as I sat down to get started, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to share my methods for paper piecing, since the book doesn't include some information I learned during a Saturday Sampler at American Quilting that I find really helps the process. American Quilting provides a great tutorial for paper piecing on their blog, just in case you have questions or mine isn't thorough enough for you.

Now, I have mixed feelings about paper piecing. I do really like it.
  • It yields beautifully accurate blocks. 
  • It also enables you to change the size of a block easily, and you don't have to do the math to do it! Aside from determining what percentage to copy or print the template at, that is... 
  • It also doesn't require precise cutting, since you'll be trimming everything up as you go.
  • You can make blocks with pieces that would be very tricky to cut out with a rotary cutter due to strange sizes or strange shapes.

But there are some drawbacks.
  • It dulls your needle. Like crazy.
  • It's pretty wasteful. I hate the pile of itty bitty slices of fabric that are left over. Yes, they're tiny, but when you think about cutting a 3 1/2 inch square that will end up being only 2 inches or so in  the finished block, it just feels super wasteful. Sometimes, I wonder about dramatically oversizing the pieces, but I haven't tried it yet.
  • It doesn't really lend itself to chain piecing. Especially for the early pieces in the center since you need to stop your stitches in the middle of the paper. You CAN do multiple blocks at a time, which I usually do so I can minimize my jumps up to the ironing board, but you have to raise your needle and pull the block out with each block. 

So, here's my way, that I learned from American Quilting. Now, I have to admit I am no expert! And, even while I was making this tutorial, I made mistakes. But, I hope you find these tips useful. Oh, and I made the Crosspatch block from the book with Kona solids from my stash while making this tutorial.

Step 1. Copy or print your template. If you are printing it, make sure you print at 100%, or actual size, NOT scale to fit. The Vintage Quilt Revival templates include a scaling inch mark which is so helpful to make sure your blocks end up the right size. Cut out your templates leaving 3/8 inch around the outside of the template.

Step 2. Crease your template. I like a thin, flexible ruler that has a quarter inch marking. It's perfect for paper piecing and I picked it up from American Quilting the day we did paper piecing for Saturday Sampler.

Line up the quarter inch line on the sewing line, with the quarter inch portion in the outside section (Ie: To mark the folds for section A1 (for the purposes of this tutorial, I'm assuming your template will be marked with A1, A2, A3, etc), the ruler should be extended 1/4 inch inside A2).

Continue folding out in order until you have folded each section. (No need to fold the outside) These folds mark where your seam allowances should be and help with trimming to keep your back nice and neat. It also helps you keep track of the direction you need to be sewing.

Step 3. Change your sewing machine settings. I like to use the straight stitch with the needle in the center so I can line up my sewing line with the center mark on my presser foot. Change your stitch length to 1.4 or 1.8. Check your tension by sewing a piece of paper with a couple layers of fabric.

Step 4. I like to secure the first piece (A1) with a dab of glue from a glue stick to the back of the template with the right side of the fabric up. The block will be face up on the back side of the paper when you are done.

 Make sure that your first piece extends beyond the seam allowance creases in all directions.

You can pin, which is what is suggested in the book, but I like glue. It will wash out, and you're not using that much. Glueing allows the pieces to lie flat together, while pinning (since you'd have to pin through paper) doesn't.

Step 5. Almost time to sew! Fold the crease between the first two sections.

Trim the excess fabric from A1 to the crease. (Excuse the fact that this photo is from a later section)

Take the A2 fabric and carefully determine how it is oriented. I like to hold the template up so I can see the light through it, and align the fabric that way, or you can visualize it on the front of the template to get the angle in your head and then put it on the back.

Flip the fabric piece onto A1, right side down, lining up the edge with the trimmed edge for the seam allowance. Make sure that it extends in all directions to cover the seam allowances.

Step 6. Carefully flip over the fabric and paper, keeping everything aligned, and move it to your sewing machine with the paper up. Double check your machine settings. Sew along the stitch line, making sure to start 1/4 inch before and after the sew line (these stitches will be in the seam allowances, so still important!). If you go much further than 1/4 inch in to the other sections, though, you'll have a hard time trimming for future pieces, so the closer you can stay to 1/4 inch, the better.

Step 7. Press. You will have to press toward the piece you just added, it's just the nature of paper piecing.

Step 8. Add the next piece by repeating the previous steps. Fold on the next crease, between A2 and A3 (sometimes between A1 and A3), trim the seam allowance, and align the next piece. Repeat until you have added all the pieces.

ready to trim

Step 9. Now it's time for the big reveal! Trim the block as directed by your pattern. Some patterns specify trimming 1/4 inch BEYOND the template, but I found with Vintage Quilt Revival, that they actually meant to trim on the solid line.

Notice that my pink fabric doesn't go all the way to the edge; this is why you need oversized pieces. This ended up being trimmed again because I misunderstood where they wanted you to trim. Also, as long as you remember (pin it or something) it's not the end of the world if it's a little short (but less than 1/4") as long as you remember that when you sew it all together in the end, since it will be in the seam allowance. Don't tell anyone I said that it's okay, though! ;-)

Step 10. Once it's trimmed, you're good to remove the paper. The short stitch length will perforate your paper substantially which will really help, but I find it helpful to also crease the stitch lines first. Carefully pull the paper away.

If you rush and pull too roughly, you could upset your stitches, especially if your tension was off, which is what I tend to do. :) If you have itty bitty pieces, it can help to use tweezers. That wasn't the case with this block, but I have done blocks that do need tweezers.

Step 11. Pat yourself on the back, you're done! If you've done a lot of piecing, switch out your needle, and don't forget to reset your machine settings!

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