Foundation Piecing Using Strips

I love foundation piecing for so many reasons.  It’s fast, easy, very accurate, and you can start sewing almost immediately.  You can make something super complex, or really simple.  The versatility is amazing to me!  I love it… now.  It was not always so!

The very first time I tried foundation piecing I cut out all of my pieces in advance allowing for ‘plenty’ of seam allowance and play room.  I had done my research.  I ‘knew’ what I was supposed to be doing. 

Or so I thought, disaster came next!  It took forever to cut all of the pieces.  When I went to sew them, I ended up spending most of my time seam ripping because my ‘plenty’ of extra fabric was suddenly not nearly enough!  The only shapes I could manage to get right were perfect squares or triangles that had a 90 angle.  But I didn’t want to do those types of quilts.  If I wanted squares and HSTs I would have stuck with the traditional piecing methods.  I wanted complex! 

So I gave up.  Foundation piecing just wasn’t for me.  Fine.  Lots of people hate it anyway, I was just going to be one of those people. 

But I kept wanting to design quilts that had a certain look.  I wanted sharp points, weird angles, and something that looked complex.  I couldn’t do that with traditional piecing.  So I had to try again. 

For my next attempt I cut my pieces much larger.  I again dreaded the whole cutting process.  (I think we all have parts we love and hate about the quilting process.  I don’t enjoy cutting fabric.  I want to get started with the sewing.  I want instant progress.)  But I did it.  All of my pieces were neatly stacked and super organized.  Whew.  Everything worked quite nicely.  Except my pile of waste scraps was massive.  I had only made a small block.  Multiply that one block by a whole quilt and I would have wasted an incredible amount of fabric.  This wasn’t going to work.

I can be a bit on the cheap side at times.  It’s not that I don’t spend money on things I like… but spending money on fabric to just throw so much away isn’t something I want to do.  I’d rather waste the money on fabric yardage that just sits in my studio for years without being touched than wasting it on fabric that I’m throwing away.  There’s probably not much difference when you really boil it down, but either way I once again wasn’t a fan of foundation piecing. 

 Then one day as I was about to give it one more shot, I decided to try something new.  (It was new to me at least, and maybe if I had attempted to research a bit I could have found someone who uses this same method.  I’m sure it’s not really ‘new,’ nothing ever is, but I haven’t seen anything really like it.)  So here is exactly how I cut my fabrics for all of those weird angles.  I rarely have to seam rip for my fabric not covering.  I seam rip for other reasons of course, but my fabric always covers the section it should these days.  And I can start sewing almost immediately after my patterns are cut.  Bonus!

Let’s get into the pictures!  First I’ll show a picture of the way I work.  I’m an artist at heart, a chaotic mess of one at times!  I don’t really love organization in my studio while working.  This is a very typical  photo of the way I work.  I can only do this because I don’t have to keep all of my precut pieces in a perfect order.   I just grab the right size strip and sew, toss it to the ‘needs ironed’ pile, and repeat! 

foundation paper piecing instructions

The first step is cutting the strips.  Here are a set of strips from a previous quilt all laid out neatly.  (I don’t normally cut this many pieces at once, but I had already completed a quarter of the design and had a pretty strong grasp on exactly what size and quantity of strips I was going to need to do the rest. Plus it made a pretty picture!) 

how to foundation paper piece

But how wide do you make your strips?  Good question! 

A little attention is needed for this step or you’ll be pulling your hair out later!  Get out your clear ruler and line it up on the line you’re going to sew on.  Always, always (!!) measure from the line you’re going to sew on. Reread that and make sure you understand that part, it’s very important. Otherwise you will end up having a weird angle and it will not be as easy, can certainly be done, but we’re going for easy on this one! 

My ruler is lined up on the line I’m going to sew.  My sewing line is on the 1/4 inch line on my ruler, because we’re accounting for seam allowance. 

foundation paper piecing methods

The green arrow shows how big my piece needs to be.  It measures at 3 1/4 inches.  That’s the MINIMUM width of my fabric strip.  Now, I’ve been doing this enough times that I’ll cut it exactly there.  If you are new to foundation piecing or this method, add some extra! This will give you play room on both sides until you get confident with the method. 

how to foundation piece quilts

Now I’m going to line up my piece.  The green arrow shows the area of my seam allowance.  Take note that the top of my piece isn’t at the top of the fabric.  I need it to cover the top of the triangle when it’s flipped over.  Carefully take this to the sewing machine and sew along the line.  (You can pin if you’d like, but I rarely do unless it’s a very long section. )

how to measure fabric foundation paper piece quilt

Sewn! Fold the fabric over and double check to make sure the piece is completely covered. Perfect! Trim the strip.  I like to leave a pinch of extra here, it hasn’t been ironed yet and I want to give a slight bit of play room. 

foundation paper piecing

Below is the ironed version.  (I did trim the seam allowance along that line before I pressed it!)

quilting foundation piecing how to

This was the first piece using a new strip so it has an extra large corner piece.  I’ll trim that as well, but save it!  It can be used for a smaller section if needed, or thrown into the small scrap bin and used for a collage quilt or a scrappy foundation pieced project. 

quilting how to paper piece

The completed piece!  All trimmed and ready for the ‘done’ pile!

complex foundation paper piecing

Now we move on to the next piece. The next piece lines up perfectly when flipped upside down.  Notice how my ‘Bs’ are facing opposite directions.  Line it up, carefully flip it over to the correct side, sew along the line. 

difficult foundation paper piecing

Here’s it is all sewn.  Look how nicely it fits. 

paper piecing complex designs

Trim and continue with more pieces! 

Many times you can use the same width strip for many different sections.  Just make sure that you always measure from the line you are going to sew on. Using this method gets you sewing immediately.  You only need strips for sections 1 and 2 to get started!  Then cut your next strip when you’re ready for section 3. 

Now I said earlier that I rarely use my seam ripper for fabric not covering the section.  I do use it for sewing the piece on when it’s facing the wrong way though!  Sometimes I get distracted and oops!  Even after much practice I still make mistakes.  

foundation paper piecing mistake

I hope this has been helpful for you!  I know that this method has completely changed my quilting life.  You can use it for absolutely any design when foundation paper piecing.  Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

Follow along on my current adventures on Instagram and Facebook @jessicaleboquilts

Happy quilting!  ~Jessica

**Sincere apologies for my terribly ugly cutting mat! It is very old and has been very well loved.  BUT… It’s being replaced for Christmas!  Horay! (Insert super excited, cheesy grin here!)

A few progress pictures of my lion collage.

Here are a few pictures from my lion fabric collage quilt.  For this collage I wanted to try something a bit different.  I wanted to see if I could only use a jelly roll pack for the fabrics, I had a lot of reasons for wanting to try.  I also wanted to try and make my pieces of fabric bigger on this one.  It was definitely a learning experience. 

Here are my fabrics: 

fabric for collage quilt

The beginning. 

fabric collage quilt progress

The fabrics are done. 

fabric collage lion quilt

And a big jump to the finished quilt.  I tested a few fabrics for the background, but didn’t really like most of them.  I found this green batik that has little leaves on it, it works enough to call it good.  I added a border of the fabrics I used because it needed something extra. 

fabric collage quilt lion

A close up of the face and the stitching.

fabric collage lion thread painting

I’m realizing I don’t have a good picture of the quilt finished and hanging, so I’ll come back and add one in here soon! 

Overall this was an interesting experiment and I enjoyed trying a slightly different method.  That being said, I really think I like smaller pieces for my fabrics, and I’m not sure I’d limit myself to one group of fabrics again.  I found that this set really lacked the variety of shades I was craving.  Sometimes learning what you don’t want to do is just as important as what you DO want to do in the future. 

Happy Quilting! ~Jessica

Getting Perfect Paper Piecing Points

Many of my quilts have a lot of points.  I love the look of complexity they bring.  The best thing about foundation paper piecing is the ability to get very sharp, perfect points every time. Perfect points are very easy to accomplish when the points are contained within the piece of paper. The trouble comes in when we are joining two pieces of foundation sections together. The paper says it should match, and yet sometimes it seems to do everything but match up. 

Below is my Evening Star quilt, you can see the seams down the middle of the teal colored fabric.  If the points weren’t matched exactly it would completely ruin the effect that I’m going for. 

advanced foundation paper piecing pattern modern quilt quild challenge riley blake quilt

The method I use is quite simple using straight pins and clips.  The key is to forget how you probably learned to use straight pins.  When matching points we do not want to slide the pin back through.  This shifts the paper and causes our points to get wacky.  Even the slightest movement can throw them off.  So keep them straight up and down.  I find little clips to be very helpful as well, especially when the pieces are a bit large.  Here is an illustration from my Northern Star quilt. 

matching points foundation paper piecing

Notice the pin placements.  At the top and bottom edges, and at major points, they can also be helpful along larger empty spaces between points to keep the foundation lines directly on top of each other.  Here’s a picture of one of my current quilts I’m designing.

perfect points foundation piecing

The pins are at all of the points.  Clips are helping hold everything in place.  (My clips are a cheap off brand from online.  They work wonderfully for so many different situations.  I highly recommend them if you don’t already have some!) 

A side view of the exact same setup.  You can see how my pins are just hanging out the backside. 

foundation piecing perfect matching points

If I carefully open up my foundation sections I can double check to make sure that I’ve gotten my pins at exactly the intersection of fabrics. 

matching points paper piecing

Then I sew them together!   Perfectly matched points! 

perfect foundation paper piecing points

Ok, sometimes they don’t actually match perfectly.  Then what?  Well it depends.  Most of the time I’ll seam rip and redo.   When a line continues to give me trouble I will very carefully match up a point and then just sew that ONE single point, about an inch or so of actual stitching.  That way I’m not getting really frustrated by ripping out a whole line multiple times.   Sometimes a very slight mismatch is deemed ‘close enough’.  I am only a human and not a machine after all! 

Creating complex quilts with foundation piecing doesn’t have to be difficult.  Most of them are truly quite simple when you break them apart.  They just require a bit of precision, a lot of patience, and a seam ripper you enjoy using!

Now go out there and find some points to match up! 

Happy quilting!  ~Jessica

Making large foundation paper patterns.

Very often I make a quilt that requires a section of foundation that is larger than I can print one sheet of paper.   I could just redo the pattern and break it into smaller pieces, but I’ve found that the fewer times I have to sew seams joining pieces the better.  It’s always easier to make the biggest sections possible to start with.  Many of my quilts and patterns already have enough pieces to worry about!  This is how I handle those not big enough yet pieces.

Here is a sneak peak at my latest quilt I’m working on.  The pieces labeled A and F below are both too large to fit on one sheet of my 14×17 inch paper.  (Yes, my pile of papers is always at least this messy!)

sewing together foundation paper pieces quilt pattern

First step is cutting out my two separate pieces.  For my patterns the shaded gray area is an overlap area.   (If you’re making your own pattern, leave yourself plenty of overlap area.)

making larger foundation paper patterns

The next step is to actually overlap the pieces.  Below you can only see one of the shaded sections.  Careful attention has to be paid to make sure that the lines are perfectly aligned. 

sewing together foundation papers to make larger patterns

Finally I’m going to set my machine to a longer stitch along the dashed line and sew the pieces of paper together.

sewing foundation papers together with basting stitch

Done! 

So why sew?  Why not use tape?  Because sewing through tape and then ripping out foundation papers after the quilt is completed makes the process a nightmare!  Sure some can probably get it to work, but sewing is so incredibly simple and fast.  Before ripping out papers just seam rip a few of the stitches and they’ll pull right out with the paper.

Next time you find yourself in need of larger foundation papers, give this method a try! 

Stay tuned for updates on this quilt!

Happy quilting!  ~Jessica

Wolf collage quilt progress pictures.

My howling wolf fabric collage is finished!  And I love seeing progress pictures, so here are a few of mine from this project.

wolf fabric collage art quilt

Most of the fabric is placed here.  You can see my reference image in the top left.  I wish I had taken a picture of my initial sketch, but I forgot…. The edges haven’t been glued yet here. 

The next picture shows my auditioning some background fabrics.  I knew I wanted a dark background.  The solid black to the right felt too dark.  Although I loved the starry night feel of the two different glittery fabrics on the bottom right, they actually seemed just too distracting when placed next to the wolf.  I liked the balance of the top left fabric.  Reminded me slightly of a dark woods feel. 

howling wolf fabric art collage quilt
wildlife art wolf fabric collage quilt work in progress

Here the background is done.  All my fabric pieces have been glued down and I’ve also added my border.  

The next picture shows my beginning thread painting.  Also gives you a better idea of the size of my fabric pieces.  I like to start with the darkest threads first. 

thread painting wolf quilt
thread painting wolf fabric collage back

The back of the quilt after the black thread is finished.  I love how much you can see the outline of the wolf at this point! 

The next picture shows the finished back of the quilt after multiple colors of thread.  I debated the background quilting for a while, but ultimately decided to go with a very simple pattern to focus only on the wolf.  I love looking at the back of thread painted quilts! 

fabric painting collage quilt back finished

And a couple of close ups of the front of the quilt.  It’s hard to see the thread painting in a normal distance photo and I love seeing the details!

thread painting wolf fabric art collage closeup
closeup fabric painting wolf fabric art quilt

And my wolf collage is finished!   I’ve had so much fun working on this project.  The reference photo is one that I’ve drawn many times before and it felt only appropriate to make a fabric version. 

Happy quilting!  ~Jessica  🙂