Working with Paper Foundations
Instructions for Piecing by Number

So here you are, you have this cute little pattern with lines on it and numbers and... now what? Are you really supposed to piece this? Some of these sections aren't even half an inch wide! Do you sew on top of the lines? How do you see what you are doing?

If you start to think of paper foundation piecing as quilt-by-numbers, and are willing to take the time to do the blocks carefully, you will find yourself piecing some really stunning blocks. PFP isn't really any faster than traditional piecework, but it does enable you to do accurate seams with small pieces that you would not otherwise be able to assemble.

Get Set Up

You start with a pattern traced or printed onto paper. Lighter weight paper is better than heavier, as you will be tearing it off afterward. Scrap paper is fine. Blank newsprint, tracing paper, and even freezer paper can be used.

The pattern will have a seam allowance around the edge of the block, and pieces labelled with sequential numbers. You will sew each piece of fabric in its numbered turn. Note that no seam allowances are given for the individual pieces. You will need to cut fabric larger than the shape that is printed in order to allow for this. You will sew along the lines that are printed on the pattern. If you have traced the lines, make sure they are drawn straight.

Paper Foundation Pattern of the Month

Follow these steps:

  1. Cut your fabric for the piece marked #1. Position your fabric with the wrong side toward the paper, on the "back" or unmarked side of the pattern. You will sew on the lines and you need to be able to see them. Remember that you are working in reverse, and you will often need to cut shapes that are mirror-images of the way the shape looks on the front of the pattern. It's always a good idea to be generous with your fabric when doing these patterns. Pin the fabric to the paper if necessary.

  2. Position the #2 fabric piece on top of the #1 piece, right sides together, and align the edge you will be sewing. If the seam is on an angle, make sure the #2 piece will open up correctly when the seam is sewn. Pin the #2 piece if you need to.

  3. Lay the paper foundation with the fabric underneath and the stitching lines on top down on your sewing machine bed. Position the needle over the line you are going to sew on.

  4. Sew the seam. Start a stitch or two ahead of the line and take an extra stitch at the end. You do not need to backstitch. Set your stitch length to a low setting so that you get lots of close, tight stitches. This makes it easier to get the paper off afterward, and harder to undo any seams.

  5. Open up the two pieces and finger-press. Look carefully to make sure the pieces are sewn properly and there is enough seam allowance on all sides. Even after you've been doing this a while it's still easy to get something in the wrong place, or misjudge the size of the fabric you'll need. If you are sure the seam is correct, trim the seam allowance to a scant 1/4 inch or less.

  6. Repeat the procedure for piece #3, and so on. When necessary, use a hot iron to press pieces if finger pressing is not keeping everything flat, or if you are ending up with a lot of bias pieces.

  7. When you have completed the block, leave the paper backing on until it is assembled with other pieces into your quilt. This will keep the block from stretching out of shape, and will help you remember where the 1/4 inch seam allowance is. To remove the paper backing, carefully tear along the seams. Be careful not to actually pull the seams out. You may find a pair of tweezers helpful, or the pointed end of the seam ripper. It's probably not necessary to every last bit of paper out of the corners.

A double hash mark // indicates a seam to be sewn before including that section in the foundation piecing. In some patterns it may also indicate where one section of piecework is to be joined to another foundation pattern.

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