I first discovered paper piecing as a sure way to sew perfect quilt squares with perfect points because I did not at all like the idea of cutting all those little pieces and stitching them together just so and perfectly...I knew that wasn't going to happen. Being inflicted with the "perfectionist" illness without the patience for it, traditional quilt blocks were not going to be in my future. But I also was drawn to how many perfect little cutsie designs could be created with paper piecing. I can applique endlessly, but having the designs with stitched-in seams was very enticing for me. After laying out a small fortune for books and patterns, I was initially disappointed that nothing was coming out perfect! AND, I was spending way too much time with my seam ripper and getting such poor results. However, as usual, persistence pays off and I discovered little secrets and tips that have made paper piecing easier and quite enjoyable. So much so that I've even taught myself to make some of my own patterns. So, without further ado, let's stitch up my ice cream cone pattern.
First, get your pattern on paper that you will stitch on. You don't need fancy paper...I use regular 20# copy paper. This pattern is in 4 sections and you may be thinking that it's too complicated for a beginner...NOT!...with my tips for you, there is no such thing as a complicated paper piecing pattern. (At least that's how I feel about it now.) Cut the sections apart...don't be precise, just cut outside the seam allowance line.
Take note of which background section is the largest and about what size it is at it's widest part. Then add maybe a 1/2" to that measurement and slice a strip off your yardage to use for all your background pieces. Again, no need to be preceise...you'll have the whole lenghth to work with if the short end is not wide enough. Now you're ready to start stitching. Set your machine stitch length for a shorter than usual length. I normally stitch at 2-1/2 so I stitch paper piecing at just under 2.
Now, some patterns end up with a pile of seams all in one place...such as a pinwheel...and you will want to press your seams open rather than to one side. If you want to press them open, you cannot sew all the way across the seam allowance. I always make only one stitch in the seam allowance (this also helps for trimming 1/8" seam allowances which in turn keeps fabric bulk at a minimum. Stitch on the line and at the end, sew only one stitch into the seam allowance. Now for trimming...
Flip the sewn section over to the fabric side and trim "all" the fabrics in that seam allowance to 1/8". (Trim them all together, not one at a time) DO NOT CUT THE PAPER! Now here is where I can't believe I didn't take a pressing photo...but open your newly sewn piece and press it back over it's seam allowance. It is said that you only need to finger press, but that isn't pressed enough for me. I use an "iron on a stick" (Clover mini iron) or my regular iron. Then from your pattern side, chop away the excess fabric outside the seam allowance.
Now find your next number, hold the pattern so that number is at the top and repeat the above steps until there is fabric behind every number.
Now getting the sections ready to be joined...
When you photo copy a pattern, there is every possibility that it won't be the "exact" size as the original. So even though I draw a 1/4" seam allowance around my pattern, I still cut that 1/4" allowance by the measurement of my ruler...it usually cuts just outside my drawn line. Now we're ready to join the sections...but first, a few helpful extra tips to get you through the paper piecing process even easier...
Many times a necessary section will only be sewn in by a couple of stitches. After stitching be sure to hold the stitches in place as you pull the stitching away from the presser foot to cut your thread...otherwise you'll just pull them right out.
Don't worry about how much fabric you have in your seam allowance when your sew a piece in because you will trim away all but an 1/8" anyway. These chunks you cut off can be used for small sections as you go along.
You can see in my example that my top scoop fabric is way more than I needed. I actually changed the direction I was going to use it in, but as long as you end up with your fabric pieces extended past the sewing lines, too big is not a concern...too small is a major concern. You can hold your work up to the light to check it if you need to.
And this next one is important because a mistake will no doubt happen at some time...
Remove your stitches carefully, I would suggest one at a time so as not to disturb the paper. 20# copy paper is pretty tough, but if you use something lighter, be careful not to tear it...too much. When you resew the line, stitch in the same exact holes...and I say this, because if you still don't sew it correctly...because I probably got distracted :-)...and you need to take the stitches out again, your paper pattern will remain intact.
Now we're ready to connect our sections...
I join these sections from the bottom up but it doesn't really matter which order you do them.
The seam joining the cone and the first yummy scoop is a straight seam, so you just line them up and stitch all the way across. Be sure you've sewn the right seams together...then before pressing them, I remove the paper in the seam allowance. Fold it over, then tear it away. You can now either press the seam to one side or press it open.
Now for the angled seams. These are the ones that really got to me and made me cringe when I saw a pattern in sections. I could never get them right until I finally figured out how to easily...
Lay the sections together the way they go. Push a pin through the corresponding seam line corners of both pieces being sure the pin comes through both corner points. Hold the piece so the pin is straight across...this will keep your two sections exactly as they need to be. I wouldn't pin the sections together because once you angle the pin, the sections will slip slightly apart. If you're trying to match points, you won't be happy about that! Get the piece into sewing position before removing the pin at the end. It really isn't difficult, just be sure it stays where you want it when you begin to sew. You can even touch the seam allowance lightly with a glue stick for an assisted temporary hold. If your design requires matching a section in the center of the piece, poke your pins through those matching spots rather than at the ends. Stitch, check your match, tear the paper from the seam as you did previously and press.
Sometimes with angled seams (and in the center of pinwheels) you'll end up with too much seam bulk. By not stitching all the way through your seam allowances (as previously mentioned) you can press part of the seam open and the rest can be pressed to one side. When seams overlap, you can press the bulky sections up and down as shown below.
Now let's tear away the rest of the paper...
Work from the outside to the inside. Fold the paper up on the stitched line then tear away. The inside pieces tear away easier. I like to use tweezers with teeth to grab small pieces. It doesn't really matter if every tiny bit of paper is removed.
To finish off the top and bottom, I've sewn on a sash piece.
Your paper piecing patterns can be done in any size you want them just by reducing and enlarging the pattern. The lime sherbet cone is at 50% the size of the original. Just remember when you reduce and enlarge that included 1/4" seam allowances will not be at 1/4" anymore.
I more enjoy the smaller paper piecing projects than the full size quilt sizes, but any size can be sewn in the manner as I've shown above. If I've left you still feeling you have questions, please don't hesitate to ask. Following are some of my paper piecing projects.
Make Mine A Triple Scoop, please
This Bird is Paper Pieced
Wonky Christmas Tree
I love it when I learn something new, so I hope I've been able to make paper piecing just a little easier for those that have been frustrated by it in the past.
Happy Paper Piecing!