Foundation Paper Piecing for Beginners

Foundation paper piecing involves taking small scraps of fabric and machine stitching them to a paper template to create clever patchwork effects. Read on for our complete guide to foundation paper piecing for beginners.

How to foundation paper piece patchwork

Foundation Paper Piecing is a very accurate method of patchwork, which is especially useful for piecing unusual or awkward shapes and achieving crisp, clean lines in your patchwork. Lynne Goldsworthy has put together this patchwork tutorial to show you how to foundation paper piece a 6in square Economy Block to get you started with this fabulous technique!

Foundation Paper Piecing Tutorial step 1
Try this simple Economy Quilt Block tutorial to hone your foundation paper piecing skills!

You will need

  • Download our Free foundation paper piecing template  to get Lynne’s Economy Quilt Block Pattern to practise with. Trace, print or photocopy this onto regular printer paper or foundation paper
  • Fabric for the centre of the block, one 4in square
  • Fabric for the first round of triangles, two 3.5in squares cut in half on the diagonal
  • Fabric for the second round of triangles, two 4.5in squares cut in half on the diagonal
Foundation Paper Piecing Tutorial step 2
The fabric pieces that will be foundation paper pieced – see the You Will Need list above for details.

Before you begin

  • When foundation paper piecing, the fabric is sewn to the back of the template, which means that the finished block will be a mirror image of the printed template. It is important to know this, especially when piecing non-symmetrical patterns such as letters or numbers.
  • Seams are sewn along the printed lines on the template and the fabric is added to the block in the order shown by the numbering on the template. So the first piece is numbered 1, the second piece is numbered 2 etc. The outer line on the template includes the final seam allowance.
  • Shorten your stitch length to about 1.5 when sewing the seams for foundation paper piecing.
  • You can pre-cut your fabric pieces when foundation piecing, or cut them as you go along – it’s up to you. Since there are several repeated and regular shapes in this block, we are pre-cutting.
  • When cutting your fabric pieces for foundation paper piecing, add 1in to the block rather than 0.5in as in regular piecing, to add a margin of error.

Ready, steady, sew!

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Step 1

Holding the template up to a window or other light source so that you can see the printed lines from the front of the template, pin the 4in square to the back of the template. It needs to be pinned so that it covers all of section 1 plus at least a ¼in all round. It should also be pinned so that the right side of the fabric faces you, with the wrong side facing the template (Fig 1 below).

Foundation Paper Piecing Tutorial step 3
Fig 1

Step 2

Take one of the 3½in half-square triangles to be pieced onto section 2 of the template. Pin it so that it is right sides together with the first piece and so that the edge sits ¼in or so over the seam line between sections 1 and 2, as shown in Fig 2 below.

How to do Foundation Paper Piecing step 2

Step 3

To check whether the piece of fabric will cover section 2 and ¼in beyond each seam line, pin along the seam line and pull the piece of fabric over with your finger (Fig 3 below).

Foundation Paper Piecing Tutorial step 4
Fig 3

Step 4

Shorten the stitch length on your sewing machine to about 1.5 (18–20 stitches per inch). This ensures that the paper will tear away easily when the block is finished.

Step 5

Flip the template so that the printed side faces up and sew the seam between sections 1 and 2, sewing exactly on the line (Fig 4 first below).

Foundation Paper Piecing Tutorial step 6
Fig 4

Extend your sewing line a few stitches beyond each end of the line (Fig 5 second below).

Foundation Paper Piecing Tutorial step 7

Note

This rule of sewing a few stitches over at each end applies when the seam sits within the block and does not reach the edge of the block. If, however, the seam touches the edge of the block, continue the seam until you reach the dashed line of the seam allowance. You may need to move the pins away from the seam to make it easier to sew this line or even transfer them to the front of the template.

Step 6

Fold the template along the seam line and trim the seam allowance on the fabric piece to ¼in. Note that this seam allowance is trimmed after the seam is sewn. For the remainder of the block, the seam allowances will be trimmed before the seam is sewn (Fig 6 below).

Foundation Paper Piecing Tutorial step 9
Fig 6

Step 7

Fold the triangle over and press it flat. Section1 and 2 have now been pieced (Fig 7 below).

Foundation Paper Piecing Tutorial step 10

Step 8

To prepare to piece section 3, fold the template over at the seam line between sections 1 and 3, which is the seam that will attach section 3. Trim any excess fabric ¼in beyond the fold line. You are trimming the seam allowance for the seam you are about to sew, which will make it easier to align the next triangle to be pieced (Fig 8 below).

Foundation Paper Piecing Tutorial step 11
Fig 8

Step 9

Repeat steps 2–5 to piece section 3, taking care to align the edge of the fabric triangle with the edge you cut at step 8. This will ensure that the seam allowance does not need to be trimmed after the seam is sewn (Fig 9 below).

Foundation Paper Piecing Tutorial step 12
Fig 9

Step 10

Flip the triangle over and press it flat to finished piecing section 3.

Step 11

Repeat this same process to sew sections 4 to 9 (Fig 10 below). The stitches extending beyond the end of the seam lines may prevent you folding the template at the seam line. In that case, fold the paper template ¼in beyond the seam line and trim alongside the fold (taking care not to cut the paper).

Foundation Paper Piecing Tutorial step 13
Fig 10

Step 12

Press the whole block. Flip the template so that the printed side is facing up and trim off excess paper, trimming the block to the outer dashed seam allowance line (Fig 11 below). Your block is now pieced and you can remove all of the paper.

Foundation Paper Piecing Tutorial step 14
Fig 11
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Foundation Paper Piecing Tutorial step 1
Your finished Foundation Paper Pieced Quilt Block should look like this.

Top tips for foundation paper piecing

  • Use a regular sewing foot for FPPing and regret to a ¼in foot for piecing the block together
  • Some people prefer to use dedicated scissors, rotary cutter blade and needle for FPP as the paper will blunt these much more quickly than fabric does.
  • Where possible, always piece triangles on the bias edges as this will keep the straight-grain on the outside edges of each row. This will make it easier to join the rows and keep your quilt top lying flat.
  • Extending the sewing line to just a stitch or two beyond the end of the line will enable the paper to be folded over to trim the seam allowance.
  • Remove papers in reverse number order, i.e. starting at the highest and finishing with section 1.
  • Someties, if you happen to make a mistake on the first seam in the block, it is quicker to print a new template and start afresh – just as long as you have enough fabric to start anew on that template.