Bunker Crafts: Paper Piece Quilting Pt. II

Welcome Back to the Bunker!

Last week I introduced english paper piece quilting, and the supplies that you would need to begin. If you weren’t able to find everything, check out our local resource post about businesses in Lawrence offering contact free pick up and delivery for your crafting needs! Assemble everything in the quietest place in your house. Hand sewing projects tend to be very portable, and I would never judge you for locking yourself in the bathroom, where the wi-fi is the weakest, where you can’t recieve emails or texts, and…

1. Trace:

Grab your templates! Last week, I posted about commercially available ones, and my next post will be about designing your own advanced compositions. If this is your first time paper piecing (it was mine), I found that using simple, equal angle, geometric shapes to be a great place to start. Here, I’m using these pre-packaged hexagons. When you’re first starting, using shapes on the larger side will help you get the idea of the technique quickly.

Place your template on the wrong side of the fabric. Trace around the template using whatever marking tool you have on hand. There are water-soluable fabric pens and pencils available, but I’m going to be honest: I’m broke and tired, and I make most of my decisions based on the following diagram.


In this center zone is a standard pencil!  Since we’re marking on the wrong side of the fabric, these light marks aren’t going to show through. If I’m working with dark fabric, I use a white colored pencil or chalk.

2 Plan a seam allowance 

“What’s a seam allowance?” you may have just screamed into the vacuum of an unkind universe. Cast at least this worry aside. The seam allowance is the extra margin of fabric between the cut edge and the stitching line that allows you to sew one piece of fabric to another without disrupting the overall size of your design on the surface of your quilt. For quilting, adding a 1/4” seam allowance around pieces is standard. In most methods of quilting, it is essential that you carefully measure all of your seam allowances to this exact 1/4” measurement. Let’s consult the decision making diagram:

Yeah, we’re not going to measure everything exactly. What is fantastic and unusual about this paper piecing method is that we only need to add that seam allowance as a structural component, i.e. an extra margin of fabric to prevent fraying, and not as a measurement tool. When we sew everything together, we’ll be using the edges of the paper template itself to align everything exactly. So go ahead and just eyeball some extra room around each traced template and ….

3. Cut

Grab your sharpest pair of scissors and cut around your template trace line, leaving the 1/4”-ish seam allowance. I enjoy batching everything. If I know I’m making a whole composition out of the same shape, I’ll trace and cut out a few dozen pieces at a time. Engaging in each step as a repetitive activity allows your mind to wander. Let’s call it the thought allowance, that extra margin of time that keeps our minds from fraying. This thought allowance gives me the time to listen to audio books or watch TV while i’m working with my hands. I’m thinking that making a whole quilt with this tutorial may entail the entire Harry Potter series, and a couple additional Stephen King books that could have used a hard edit, and I’m thrilled.



4. Starch and Iron 

Starch is useful here, but not entirely essential if you’re using a simple shape. Go back and consult the decision making diagram to determine the best course of action. If you are using starch, spray an even mist over your cut fabric shapes. Placing them on a clean kitchen towel helps to absorb and distribute any extra product. Next, place your paper template back onto your cut piece, inside of the trace lines. Iron all of the seam allowances over the template, trapping the template inside using a dry, hot iron. The end product will look something like a dumpling. If it’s late in the day, consider making these actual dumplings for dinner. As a bonus, while everything is steaming, you have more time to work on this next step.

5 Baste Stitching 

Baste stitches are long, temporary, stitches. Here, we’ll baste stitch the seam allowances, gathering around the edges so the template won’t fall out. Think of this stitch as a drawstring, pulling the extra fabric of the seam allowance in. Thread a needle, and work around the perimeter of the seam allowances in long, loose, stitches, moving in and out of the fabric. After you have rotated around the entire shape, tie the tail of the threads together, and snip the long leftover threads. Using a contrasting thread here will work the best, because after we’ve sewn everything into the final composition, these baste stitches will be clipped out, and the paper template removed.

6. Repeat and Compose! Repeat these steps until you have a big stack of tiles. At this stage, take some time to arrange your options in different patterns and combinations. For compositional ideas, Pinterest is an endless resource for quilt-gazing flower arrangements, fruit, and even coffin patterns!  Here is a board I started with just a few ideas for you to consider. However, don’t underestimate the charm of a random layout if you’re just getting started and feeling overwhelmed! Join me next post for sewing everthing together, and how to make complex arrangements using custom templates.

Until next week in the bunker,