Tools and tips on paper piecing

Updated 11-7-2023.

paper piecing 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. If I had to choose the 6″ or 12″, I would choose 12″.

Sometimes the 1/4″ lip will slide over the edge of your turned paper and you will not get an exact 1/4″ allowance on your fabric. In this case, use something like the Grace True Grips. You could also use a clear ruler like shown in the photo above 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. Also, when you save all outside trimming until last, the larger heavier rulers tend to rub a blister on my fingers.

Tip: Visit your local beauty supply store and purchase a bottle of clear nail hardener. Paint the lines on the ruler edges where they rub off from regular use. Because it’s clear you will still see your lines and it will prevent them from disappearing. Clean the ruler prior to applying it.

Tape, rotary cutter and seam ripper


Some days you will not use the tape or seam ripper at all. 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 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 a dab of glue the patch will slip on the paper.  Sometimes the corner fabrics will not lay flat against the paper. This can be an issue when stitching the templates together or trimming the excess paper and fabric from the outside of  completed templates.

The clear glue sticks works just as well, you just cant see how much you have applied.

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. Again this washes cleanly from fabric. So what do I use this for? A LOT!

If I am making a patchwork quilt I use the liquid 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 that 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. 

I still use pins,  3 pins to be exact. They sit beside me on my piecing table and I replace them when the heads pop off. For my purpose it doesn’t really matter if they are a little bent. Why 3? I don’t 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.

Pins are a danger to pets too. If I know how many pins are in use its easier to keep track of them. If I look down and am missing one, work stops until I find it.


It is very important that you stay away from heavy seams or what will become heavy seams like the corners. 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. See the photo to the left. Place a dot of glue in the corner of the 2 lower blocks and stitch. Repeat with the top two blocks. Using glue, baste the halves together. As you can imagine one of those 3 things above will happen.

If not, now add your batting and backing and try running that under you needle to quilt this completed block. 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.

Other uses for glue

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, glue baste, and iron. 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 left photo is showing trimmed templates ready to be stitched. 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.

An important thing 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 1/4″ line on your stitch line, trim any paper or fabric extending past the ruler. If your fabric doesn’t reach the edge of your ruler, then you don’t have a 1/4 seam allowance on your finished template.

On both free and purchased patterns I’ve noticed the trim line is not always 1/4″ away from your stitch line and some designers do not include a trim line at all. So, use the cut line as a guide for trimming the templates from the sheets and 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.

Do you fmq on your domestic 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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