Craftsy logoEtsy logo 

Karen Combs' Studio

Let's learn to Paper Piece!

(c) 2003 Karen Combs' Studio

Let me tell you a secret.  For years, I hated paper piecing.  Still, I was fascinated by the possibilities of paper piecing.  I loved the idea of making very difficult angles or pointy points with ease.  As I designed the quilts for my book Floral Illusions, I realized paper piecing would be an excellent method to create many quilts in this book.


I knew I had to find a way to like paper piecing.  In fact, as I showed students in my classes some of the new designs for the book, someone asked how I was going to make it.  I said, “Paper piecing.”  Several students groaned.  One asked, “Do you like paper piecing?”  I said “No, but I am going to find a way to like it!”  Several students smiled and said, "When you find it, lets us know."


Well, I have found a way to like paper piecing.  I guess you could say I really love it!  In this class, I’m going to show you a way to paper piece that is easier, quicker and (hopefully) seam ripper free!

The pages below will give you a free lesson on paper piecing.  Give it a try, soon you will be creating many new designs with this wonderful method.  Paper piecing opens up numerous new patterns to you.   For best results, follow the suggestions exactly.   If you are interested in my book, Flora Illusions, please click here.

  I hope you enjoy the lesson and find it useful! 




The following items will help you in paper piecing your quilts. 


  • Sewing machine that is clean, tuned up and thread with off-white thread.

         Stitch length: Set your straight stitch length to 1.5 or 18-20 stitches to the inch.  This will also aid in tearing the paper off by         perforating the paper.


  • Sewing machine needles.  For standard machine piecing, use a size 80/12 needle.  For paper piecing, use a size 90/14 needle.  This needle is larger and creates a larger hole in the paper foundation.  This larger hole makes the paper easier to remove.


  • 6” Add-A-Quarter rulers for trimming fabric while paper piecing.  If you can’t find this ruler at your local quilt store, you can make one as follows:


Using a 1” x 6” rotary ruler, add ¼” masking tape along one edge.  Continue adding the tape to the edge until a “lip” has been built up.



Making a ruler with a lip, similar to a Add-A-Quarter ruler.



  • Postcard for paper piecing.  You will fold the paper foundation against it before trimming with Add-A-Quarter ruler. 
  • Rotary cutter, rotary ruler and mat for rotary cutting shapes.
  • Sandpaper grips.  If you find your rotary ruler or post card slipping as you use them, attach sandpaper grips to the edges.
  • Flower head pins.  Use to attach your first fabric piece to the paper piecing pattern.
  • Small stick-on note pads for labeling fabric pieces with placement numbers.
  • Colored pencils for indicating assigned colors
  • Scotch Brand Removeable Tape for repairing torn paper foundations.
  • Iron.  Set your iron on a high setting with no steam.  Dump out the water from the iron.




Pattern for Paper piecing : a label

Let's make a label to try out paper piecing!  (Click here for the label)












Muslin or white on white fabric 

Dark green 

Light green 

(Use fabric you have on hand for this project.  This label requires very little fabric)


One complaint I had about paper piecing is not knowing what size to cut the fabric.  Sometimes I would guess wrong, sew the piece to the foundation, only to find it did not fit.  Let me share a secret:


Measure the patch, add ¾” seam allowances before cutting the fabric.  I’ve found this eliminates the dreaded  “Oh no, I’ve cut the piece too small and it does not cover the patch.  The excess fabric will be trimmed off later.



For example:

A1 (muslin)  It measures  3” x 4 ½”.   Add 3/4" to each measurement.    CUT piece  3 ¾” x 5 ¼”.



A1 (muslin)   CUT piece  3 ¾” x 5 ¼”

A2 (muslin)   CUT piece 1 ¾” x 5 ¼”

A3 (medium green)  CUT piece 1 ¾” x 5 ¼”


B1  (muslin)  CUT piece 2 ¼” x 3 ¾”

B2  (medium green)  CUT  3 ¾ " x 2 ¼”

B3 (dark green)  CUT  2 ¼” x 1 ¾”


I find it helpful to write the numbers (A1, A2, A3, B1, B2, B3,  etc.)  on a small Post-it™ note and stick it to the piece of fabric as I cut it.  This helps keep the pieces straight and is extremely helpful when working on the quilt.


Pieces cut and labeled, ready for sewing




Notice the foundation pattern is divided into two pieces.  This is correct.  Each side will be pieced and then sewn together. Trim excess paper to approximately ¼” away from the line. 


Label before it is cut into two pieces




Label after it is cut into two pieces, approximate ¼”” from sewing line


#1.  On the unprinted side of the foundation, place the first piece of fabric (piece A 1 - muslin) over the number #1 area.  With printed side facing you, hold the unit up to a light source.  Make sure the fabric covers the entire area plus 1/4" seam allowance.  Pin the piece in place, using a flower head pin.  (You may prefer to attach the piece with a dab of glue from the glue stick.)

Fabric placed on A1 piece



#2.   Place the foundation, fabric side down on a cutting mat.  Place postcard along the sewing line between A1 and A2; fold the foundation back along the postcard.  (My postcard is a beautiful painting of a blue flower by Georgia O’Keeffe. It’s a little treat to use a beautiful postcard.  If you don’t have one, you can even use a subscription card from a magazine.)

Postcard placed along sewing line between A1 and A2, foundation flipped back



#3.  Place the Add-A-Quarter ruler on the foundation so the lip is pushed up next to the crease and the postcard.  Using a rotary cutter, trim excess fabric.  The Add-A-Quarter ruler gives an accurate 1/4" seam allowance

Placing Add-A-Quarter ruler along the edge and trimming fabric



#4.  Place the second piece of fabric (piece A2 - muslin)  right sides together along the edge of the first piece.  Holding the foundation and fabric up to a light source, gently flip the piece over and check to see if it covers the entire area plus the seam allowance.


#5.   With fabrics in place, flip the foundation over to the printed side of the paper and sew on the line between piece A1 and piece A2.  Extend the stitching line slightly before and after the printed line.  This will help prevent the stitching from coming out.  Make sure to have a 90/14 needle in your sewing machine.  Set the stitch length at 1.5.  It also helps to use an open toe foot.  This allows you to see the line without any problems.


Sewing on line between pieces A1 and A2.  Open toe foot is helpful in seeing the sewing line


#6.   Remove from sewing machine, place the foundation, printed side down, on the muslin covered ironing board.  Fold back piece #2 and press with an iron (no steam!)  Holding the fabric in place, run wooden iron along the seam.  This helps the seam lie flat.

After pressing with a dry iron, a wooden iron is used to make sure seam is pressed open and flat


#7.  Place foundation, fabric side down on a cutting mat.  Place postcard along the sewing line between A2 and A3, fold the foundation back along the postcard.

Postcard is placed along line between pieces A2 and A3. 

Foundation is flipped back along postcard


#8.  As in step 3, place Add-A-Quarter ruler on the foundation, so the lip is pushed up next to the crease.  Using the rotary cutter, trim excess fabric, as before.

Excess fabric is trimmed



#9.   Align the next fabric patch (A3 – medium green), right sides together, along the trimmed edge.  Flip the foundation over to expose the printed side.  Sew on line between piece A2 and piece A3.

Align fabric piece A3 with edge of A2.  Flip to make sure it covers foundation before sewing.



#10.  Section A is now finished. Trim the foundation 1/4" away from the outer line.  STOP!  Make sure you are trimming 1/4" away from the line, not on the line!

Trim Unit A  ¼” from sewing line.


Do not remove the paper from the block at this point.


Sew the B section in the same manner the A section was sewn.  When the B section is finished, trim ¼” from sewing line as you did in section A.


#11.  Sew section A to section B.  Press with an iron, no steam.

 Section A and section B, trimmed and ready to pin together


Section A and section B pinned and ready to sew




When the two sections are sewn together, the paper should still be on the back of the label.  Don’t tear the paper off yet.  The paper will remain on the back of the block until the quilt is finished.  I find it is helpful to remove the paper from between the two sections.

Edge papers removed from back of label.  Lines drawn on back of paper


Since this is a label, the paper on the back of the label will aid you in the writing on the quilt label.  Using a ruler and a black Sharpie pen, draw 4 lines on the paper backing.  Space these lines approximately 1 – 1 ½ " apart. 


Flip the label over and lay on a white surface, such as a blank piece of paper.  Using a permanent maker (Pigma .05 pen) write the following.

Line one:  your name

Line two: your address

Line three:  phone number (email address)

Line four:  name of the quilt, year made

Once the label is finished, you can remove the paper.  Since a larger needle and smaller thread length was used, tearing the paper off will be fairly easy.


There you go!  You have just paper pieced a beautiful label for your quilt.  Did you find it difficult to paper piece?  I hope not.  I find it very easy to do, when you are using the right tools.


Now, go forth and paper piece!!

     Craftsy logoEtsy logo 

Privacy Policy & Cookies     Contact Us     Site Map

Copyright © 2015 Karen Combs. All Rights Reserved
Designed and built by GloDerWorks.