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. You use a foundation paper piecing template to build up your shape, piece by piece, sewing through the back of the paper piecing template, following the order shown on the template. This means that the finished block will be a mirror image of the printed template. You need to know the order to follow to build up the foundation paper pieced block – templates will normally have numbers on them showing the order. So the first piece is numbered 1, the second piece is numbered 2 etc. You can see just how it is done with our foundation paper piecing video demo, or our step by step tutorial make from Lynne Goldsworthy.
Foundation paper piecing video
We’ve filmed this foundation paper piecing video to show the technique in action. If you prefer a written foundation paper piecing tutorial, we have that for you below!
Foundation paper piecing project
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! Learn how it’s done in our complete beginner’s guide, or if you’d like to start gentle with paper piecing, you can always head over to our free hexagon templates to try a spot of soothing English paper piecing too.
Foundation paper piecing materials
- 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
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.
Let’s get paper piecing!
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).
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.
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).
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.
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).
Extend your sewing line a few stitches beyond each end of the line (Fig 5 second below).
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.
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).
Fold the triangle over and press it flat. Section1 and 2 have now been pieced (Fig 7 below).
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).
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).
Flip the triangle over and press it flat to finished piecing section 3.
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).
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.
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.