Foundation paper piecing (sometimes referred to as FPP) is a foundation quilting technique that uses paper to guide stitching lines for a quilt block. The outline of the quilt block and its pieces are printed or traced onto paper and those lines are used as the stitching lines. In this article you’ll learn all about how to foundation paper piece, including a free paper piecing pattern!
Fabric is also sometimes used as a base for foundation piecing which is common with crazy quilters. With fabric foundation piecing, the fabric is left in the final product. Paper foundation piecing is more popular, since it is easy to print the foundation paper pattern on a home printer.
Using this method to create quilt blocks is extremely precise and can be used for a variety of designs. The block pieces are sewn together through the paper, and when the quilt block is complete, the paper is gently torn away from the seams.
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When making a quilt block with paper piecing, the fabric is sewn to the back of the printed pattern. This is important to remember – all of your paper foundation patterns will be a mirror image of the finished block.
Download our FREE foundation paper piecing pattern for a Wonky Square Quilt Block:
What is the history of foundation paper piecing?
Historians say that foundation paper piecing started in the 19th century when sewists would sew bits of fabric to paper to stabilize their patchwork piecing while they were hand stitching.
Why do people like foundation paper piecing?
With paper piecing, it is easier to sew very accurate seam lines. The quilt block is stabilized while you are sewing it, including bias seams! Paper pieced patterns can be very intricate and complicated. A quilter follows the pattern and doesn’t need to cut small pieces of fabric accurately as long as the fabric is large enough cover the space.
What tools do I need for foundation paper piecing?
You’ll need a sewing machine that you can change the stitch length, paper for printing or designing the quilt block pattern, a ruler with a 1/4-inch mark OR an Add a Quarter ruler that has one side for folding your paper and one side for adding the 1/4-inch seam. You’ll also need a rotary cutter or fabric scissors, paper scissors to cut the pattern sections, pins, iron and ironing surface (ironing board or wool pressing mat). If you are using a rotary cutter, you’ll need a cutting mat and quilter’s ruler. Optional is a fabric glue pen to hold the fabrics together while sewing. Also, optional is a light box. A light box is helpful for lining up your fabric with the quilt block template – you can use a window, too. And, of course, you’ll need fabric!
Do I need to change my stitch length when I paper piece?
Yes, it is recommended to use a shorter stitch length when paper piecing. This makes the quilt block seams stronger and perforates the paper more, making it easier to remove when the block is complete. You should set your stitch length to 1.5 or to 18 to 20 stitches per inch.
What kind of paper can I use for foundation paper piecing?
There are special papers made specifically for paper piecing that are called quilt block foundation paper. The specialty papers are thinner and easier to see through and remove when the quilt block is complete. Many quilters use plain printer paper, which is less expensive than the specialty papers, but harder to see through.
I find using vellum paper works great. It is fairly transparent so you can see your fabrics easier than plain paper, is a bit stiffer and thinner than printer paper so your folds are crisper and is much easier to tear away from the seam when your quilt block is complete.
Freezer paper is also sometimes used because you can press the fabric onto the paper and you don’t need to pin or glue the fabric for sewing. When a quilter uses freezer paper, they don’t sew through the paper. The paper is peeled off of the fabric and can be reused multiple times. See our article on How to Foundation Paper Piece with Freezer Paper
Some quilters also use parchment paper, tissue paper, tracing paper and newsprint! See which paper you prefer for designing or printing your pattern, stitching and then removing the paper.
Can I use printer paper for foundation piecing?
Yes. See the information above on papers for foundation piecing. I find that it works fine in a pinch, but I prefer using vellum paper or the freezer paper method.
Here is a comparison of a block made with printer paper and a block made with vellum paper. See how the vellum tears away nicely versus the printer paper? You also have a better view of your fabrics.
Here are printer paper and vellum paper after all of the paper is removed. See how the vellum paper has fewer little bits to remove with tweezers?
As you can see, printer paper works, but it is easier to work with vellum paper for foundation paper piecing.
What is the difference between paper piecing and foundation piecing?
Paper piecing uses paper! The paper can be used as a foundation for sewing the pieces together as we explain in this article, or paper (often freezer paper) can be used as a base pattern for adding seam allowances to each pattern piece as explained in our article How to Freezer Paper Piece.
How do you use a foundation paper piecing pattern?
Start by printing your pattern on your preferred paper. Keep in mind that your printed pattern will be a reverse image of your finished quilt block. Take a look at the pattern. You’ll see each block is numbered, and some blocks are grouped together. That is the order for sewing the quilt block. The first piece of fabric is numbered 1, the second piece is numbered 2 and so on. Once each group is put together, you then sew the groups together in the order noted on the pattern.
TIP: Use colored pencils, markers or crayons to mark the color for each piece. This makes it easier for when you cut the paper patterns to remember which color goes in which section.
For each section you fold the pattern back and line up the next fabric to be sewn. Pin or glue baste the fabrics, fold the paper back and stitch along the marked sewing line.
How do I cut the fabric for FPP?
My preferred method for cutting the fabric for FPP is to print one of the patterns on regular printer paper. Mark each piece with the color of fabric you’ll be using. Then, cut out each section to use as a template for your cutting out your fabric. Cut out each fabric with the associated pattern piece, making them at least 1/2-inch larger than the shape on all sides.
Other quilters find it easier to cut a piece of fabric the width of the folded fabric for each section of your block that is about 1 inch longer than the area you are you are covering. Example, if your shape is 2-inches long, cut a 3-inch strip of fabric. Then, as you get to each section of the pattern, just snip a piece from the strip of fabric that is wide enough to cover your pattern piece. This works if you are on a roll and have a good idea of how much fabric you’ll need to cover each section of the shape.
You can cut all of the pieces of fabric out first or cut as you need them. If you cut them before you get started, either pile them with your cut out section for the block, or take a small piece of painters tape or labels and label each piece.
How do I line up the fabric with the seam line?
You can hold the pattern with the fabric up to a window, or use a light box, to be able to see the fabric alignment, making sure it will cover the entire section. This is where having a more translucent paper, like vellum, makes it easier to make sure your piece of fabric will cover the shape.
What foot should I use on my sewing machine to paper piece?
When sewing the fabric using the paper, it is best to use your regular sewing foot. When all of your blocks are complete and paper removed, use your 1/4-inch quilters foot to sew the blocks together.
How do you sew paper piecing blocks together?
When your blocks are all complete, trimmed and paper removed, use your quarter-inch foot on your sewing machine to sew the quilt blocks together.
How do you remove the paper from the back of a paper pieced quilt block?
To remove the paper from your quilt block, start with LAST fabric added and work your way to the first fabric added. Tear the fabric away gently from the stitching, so you don’t break the threads. Use a pair of pointed tweezers to get the difficult small pieces of paper out of your stitching.
How do you reduce bulk in paper piecing?
To reduce the bulk in your paper pieced quilt block, it is important to trim the seam lines before lining up the next fabric, making sure all excess fabrics are trimmed away.
Browse through more foundation paper piecing projects and inspiration on Create Whimsy.