April 8, 2013

Another reason to paper-piece

True to the saying “Before Prozac there was quilting”, I often patch my sorrows in my quilt room. When I need respite but cannot get away from home, the answer to my frayed nerves is almost always a paper-piecing project (applique’ is my next choice), in the form of a small wall hanging or simply finding a way to add it to a current project. It is precisely the repetition and attention required at each step which takes my mind away from worries, relaxes stressed muscles, and heals wounds as it demands time – a healer in its own right. The result is always perfect points, a perfection not easily attained in any other aspect of life without exertion of considerably greater effort than just sewing a straight line... The blocks look like they were made by someone with a lot more experience than me.

A few months ago when I asked my blog readers which quilt-related skill they would like to learn this year, a surprising number of respondents mentioned paper-piecing, quickly adding they found the technique intimidating, hair-pulling, demanding extreme precision. How could this be fun?

As with other blocks, there is a series of steps to follow, and the only requirement is that one sews straight on a marked line. Beyond that, repetition is the name of the game!

After deciding  on the block, gathering  and cutting the  fabrics, I remind myself of four things: 

(1) fabrics are placed on the back side of the pattern and sewn on the front side of the pattern; 
(2) pieces of fabric should extend beyond the lines of the area to be covered by at least ¼ inch; 
(3) seams are sewn in sequential order (first seam will be on line between areas 1 and 2, second seam between areas 2 and 3, and so on, depending on each design); 
(4) stitch two or three stitches before and after each line to make sure entire line is covered – these stitches are removed in the process of trimming the seam allowances. Then, I run the simple steps through my mind before I actually begin.

Hold paper with back of pattern facing you (numbers on pattern will read backwards); place first fabric, right side up, over area marked “1”; place second fabric onto first fabric, right sides together, and pin; flip to front of pattern; sew on line between areas 1 and 2; remove pin; align edge of postcard over next line to be stitched (between areas 2 and 3, for example); fold pattern over postcard; place add-a-quarter ruler over postcard; trim fabrics to ¼” seam allowance; unfold pattern; flip to back; place next fabric on the edge you just trimmed; repeat.

The postcard mentioned above, in addition to further brightening your day with its picture of, perhaps, a beach and palm trees, provides a sturdy edge over which to fold the paper and align the ruler as you trim the seam allowance.

When making many blocks, I work as if in an assembly line, sewing the first area on all blocks, then moving on to the next area, thus avoiding confusion and mistakes. After all blocks are sewn together, music sees me through the process of removing the paper. Finally, I stand back and marvel at the work. Perfection can be a silly and time-wasting pursuit, yet it can be [unintentionally] achieved as by-product of methodical work.

Some of us aren’t as concerned with the process of block construction, focusing instead on completing the quilt and basking on its finished beauty. Others delight in taking time to measure and cut with precision, sew with care, and square off blocks.  Different strokes for different folks. Regardless of your inclination, paper-piecing will please you with its simple to follow method and eye-pleasing results. As a bonus, you may even save money by reducing your contribution to the bottom line of pharmaceutical companies. 

Paper-piecing is my way to avoid going to pieces… Which is yours?


  1. Well said Denise! It's quite meditative to lose oneself in the quilt making process. Sometimes taking your mind off your troubles and onto sewing (crocheting or knitting) breaks that loop we can get caught up in. I love that quilt, looks like it has paper piecing and applique.

  2. This is really beautiful, did you design it Denise? I find piecing to be the most relaxing for me but I did finally get the paper piecing grasped this year and have found I really enjoy it......but it isn't as relaxing to me. Applique....I really love it!


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