On paper piecing

This morning I sent an email to bloggers who follow me asking if they paper piece. I’m trying to get my pattern For the love of geese circulated on the web and who better to ask than bloggers. One of the replies suggested she is interested in learning paper piecing and asked for insights. What  a great idea for a blog post but I’m not sure if this is what she was looking for. Below are my heavily used tools. I did get a fresh glue stick for the photo 🙂 . I’ll also include a few useful to me tips.

The tools

These are the items I use everyday for paper piecing.

Add a quarter rulers, 6″ & 12″. Clear 18″ ruler

The add a quarter ruler is a must. You can get by with just a 6″ but for larger pieces you will need to slide it along the folded paper. Sometimes the 1/4″ lip will also slide over the edge of your turned paper and you will not get an exact 1/4″ allowance. You could also use a clear ruler like I have in the right of the photo for trimming the 1/4″ seam allowance. The clear ruler is a Friskars, 3″ x 18″ . I purchased this specifically for trimming my completed templates. Anything larger than this is too large and clumsy  for my small hands. Also, when you save all outside trimming until last, the larger heavier rulers tend to rub a blister on my fingers.

Tape, rotary cutter (well used) and seam ripper

Tape, rotary cutter and seam ripper. Some days you will not use the tape or seam ripper. But if you don’t have them on hand you will surely need them. Yes, I know my seam ripper is old and well used. I’m not going for pretty but functional and it still functions well. On occasion I have had to tape templates back together because I have cut into them with my rotary cutter, it happens.

No one is perfect and at some point you will stitch the wrong color fabric onto the template and have to rip it out, or maybe your patch doesn’t fully cover the area.  After ripping , I really recommend that you tape over this area because your paper is perforated from the needle and will tear off very easily.

Elmers washable school glue stick, disappearing purple. The purple really does disappear and it washes cleanly. This is used for tacking down your first patch on the template. Without it, the patch will slip on the paper.  Sometimes the corner fabrics will not lay flat against the paper which can be an issue when stitching the templates together or trimming the excess paper and fabric from the outside of  completed templates.

Elmers washable school glue 4oz liquid. Use sparingly and stay at least 1/2″ away from corners or areas where there is a heavy seam and within your seam allowance. Your quilter will use all types of niceties otherwise.  Again this washes cleanly from fabric. So what do I use this for? A LOT!

If I am piecing traditionally I will use this glue to tack my rows together before sewing. It keeps the layers of fabric  from shifting under the needle.  Basically any place that I would have used pins in the past, I use the glue. The main reason, I learned a long time ago the dangers of using pins when quilting. It doesn’t matter how cautious you are, there is a chance one or more will get left in the quilt. Waterbeds aren’t as common today as they once were but babies are and we wouldn’t want either pinned to a quilt.  Adults dislike being awakened  because they have rolled over on a pin left behind.  I still use pins,  3 pins to be exact. They sit beside me on my piecing table at all times and I use them until the heads pop off. For my purpose it doesn’t really matter if they are a little bent. Why 3? I dont need more than 3 at a time. These are used to line up my templates and hold them in place while I dot my glue on and set it with the iron.   Back to the glue.

It is very important though that you stay away from heavy seams or what will become heavy seams like the corners. The reason, stack 4 pieces of fabric, add a piece of batting to that, add a piece of your backing to that, place 4 small dots of clue on the corners of 4 of these pieces and try stitching through it (with dried glue of course).  One of three things will happen: 1. your needle breaks 2. your machines glides around it but not through it 3. it stops your machine in its tracks. Just think if you had 4 blocks that were all half square triangles, stitched together. IMG_1847Not following? See the photo to the left. Place a dot of glue in the center corner of the 2 lower blocks. Place the upper blocks on the lower blocks and heat set the glue with your iron (if you used just a small amount of glue it will dry very quickly). Now take to your machine and sew the 2 halves together, open and press. Next line up  the 2 halves , apply a small dot of glue on the outside corners and in the center . Heat set with your iron, take to your machine and stitch the halves together. If you did this, I am sure you noticed a difference when your machine hit that glue/seam in the center but it still stitched as normal. Open and press, now add your batting and backing and try running that under you needle to quilt this completed block. Your results will be one of the 3 noted above when you reach that center full of seams and 2+ dots of glue. This is why you stay away from the corners or heavy seams and within that 1/4″ seam allowance. I have used Elmers washable school glue in this manner for many years and have never had any issues when following the instruction above.

You can use it to tack your applique’s down so they remain stationary while hand or machine stitching. You can use it to hold patches down on blue jeans while you patch them because your husband ripped a brand new pair while at work. When you are sewing your binding onto the quilt and you want the end and beginning of the binding to join together nicely. Remove the quilt about 6″ before the joint, iron in hand, tack it together. Just make sure the glue is dry before running under your needle.

Tips that do not require tools. Remove excess bulk. You have all of your templates stitched, you have trimmed the excess fabric and paper from the templates and are now ready to put it all together.  The lower left photo is showing trimmed templates ready to be stitched. (Once edited, cropped and sized it went blurry, sorry) The arrows point to the stitch line. Once I’ve sewn these 2 pieces together I fold the paper flap in and carefully rip just that flap off on both sides below my stitched line. The rest I leave in tact. Another important fact that some pattern designers leave out about that stitch line. Remember the clear 3″ x 18″ Friskars ruler, locate the 1/4″ line on it. Now lay that line on your stitch line, trim any paper or fabric extending past the ruler. If you dont have anything extending past the ruler with the 1/4″ lined layed on the stitch line, then you dont have a 1/4 seam allowance on your finished template. Both free and purchased patterns I’ve noticed that the trim line is not always 1/4″ away from your stitch line. So use the trim line as a guide for trimming the templates from the sheets, I clip outside the trim line to be safe. To avoid any issues when putting it all together, use your stitch line to create your 1/4″ seam allowance on the finished templates. Please, if this does not make sense let me know and I will edit this post and try to be more clear. If you have additional questions, let me know and I will add to this post. IMG_1851

Do you fmq on your table model machine? Here is another great tip (I haven’t tried yet but I will) using Elmers Washable School Glue. Quilting Gail


  1. Hi Denise, Great post – great explanation! I’ve also used Elmer’s to hold appliqué in place. And it works great if you’re going to machine sew the binding down. But, as you already know … I do dilute my glue: For appliqué & binding : 1 part glue / 1 part water. For quilt basting: 1 part glue/ 4 parts water. Happy Quilting! Gail

    1. I’ll give it a try if I ever need to baste something small for my table model machine. When using it straight from the bottle and sparingly you can have excellent results in traditional or paper pieced quilts. Sometimes while paper piecing the paper will stick. I keep a starch can cap with water and a small paint brush nearby and I just dampen the stuck on spot. It softens the glue and dissolves the paper. But the paper only sticks when I am heavy handed with the glue.

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