This month’s free gift is the Quilt Block Library*; a really-handy collection of 36 must-sew quilt blocks featuring extracts from The Quilt Block Bible by Rosemary Youngs. Inside our supplement you’ll find templates for each quilt block along with easy-to-follow instructions for how to hand-piece them, and helpful tips for how to use each one as a foundation paper piecing (FPP) template. If you’re new to making your own FPP templates, our Technical Editor Laura is here to help! Read on and she’ll talk you through how to take a quilt block pattern, and turn it into an easy-to-use FPP template!
Once you’ve practised, this is a really fun technique and the secret to getting it right each time is simply to think about the order in which you’ll need to add your fabric pieces. Read on for our walkthrough to help demystify the process.
Getting to grips with Foundation Paper Piecing
If you’ve never tried FPP before, it can take a little more time to get your head around than other piecing techniques, but it’s often the best choice for sewing intricate blocks, or those with tricky Y-seams. FPP creates accurate piecing and the sharpest of points, and it’s really easy once you know how.
In this post, we’re assuming that you’ve tried FPP before, but if you’re not already familiar with it we’d advise you pop over to Lynne Goldsworthy’s brilliant tutorial, and swot up on the basics.
Let’s get started: plan your units
Some block patterns can be foundation pieced all in one go. This means you can start with one piece of fabric at a section on one side, or in the centre, and then add pieces in sequence to cover the whole foundation block in one go. Other blocks are more intricate and need to be broken down into units.
To analyse whether a block can be FPP’d in one go, you just need to consider the lines. Fabric pieces can only be ‘stitched and flipped’ to cover one section at a time, so the points where lines intersect are likely to create obstacles. Essentially, the piecing can only ‘travel’ in one direction at a time and cannot turn corners.
Try and view your block as a grid: this can also be useful as many patterns can be broken into smaller units, following a logical four-patch or nine-patch principle. These blocks can be simply cut along the horizontal or vertical lines, pieced and then sewn back together.
Other blocks are harder to mentally divide into units. Often these need to be broken into several sub-units or separated along diagonal lines and pieced back together in diagonal rows.
Let’s look at an example
Rambler (pictured above, and block 34 in our supplement) is one of these blocks that needs breaking into smaller units. Let’s look at the pattern together: we can see that the triangles on each side of the block create right-angled seams (highlighted in red in this illustration). These are going to cause problems and stop fabric pieces being successfully added with all raw edges contained. So this block needs to be split into units.
There are no marked lines running along the horizontal or vertical, and the main seam lines are on the diagonal. So you’ll find that cutting the block into three diagonal rows (along the main diagonal seams) will split up those pesky Y-seams – and you’re over the first hurdle!
Now let’s make the templates
Once you’ve split the block pattern into three, then trace each template onto paper. A good way to do this is to tape it to a window.
Remember to add a 1⁄4in seam to all sides of each unit. Roughly cut out each unit approx 1⁄2in-1in larger – you’ll trim it down later.
Which order should we piece our fabrics?
Think about traditional piecing and whether similar blocks are usually pieced in rows, or from the centre out. Study the centre unit of the block below. If we start at one end, could we work left to right without hitting an intersecting seam? No. What if we start with fabric piece 1 in the middle and work our way out. We can add pieces 2, 3, 4 and 5 to the sides of the centre square without interruption, as we would for a traditional square-in-a-square block, working outwards. Moving on from there, we can add the piece for each Flying Geese centre first (6) and then the small triangles either side (7 & 8) continuing in this manner to the end of the unit.
Work up one ‘arm’ of the X block, then the other to complete the centre unit. Ta da!
The corners are made in the same way. We can’t start on one side and work across as we’ll hit intersecting lines. We also can’t start in the corner for the same reason.
So we’ll start with the Flying Geese triangle closest to the block centre (1) and then add the small triangles to either side, working towards the corner of the block. The large background triangles can then be added to each side (8 & 9).
This block will be stitched back together in diagonal rows. Make sure all units are trimmed down to the outer 1/4in line. Simply line up the raw edges and stitch pieces together along the marked seam line. Note: Don’t remove the block papers until you are finished piecing a project.
TIP! Use Wonderclips or plastic coated paper clips to hold two Foundation Paper Piecing units together.
And there we have it, one completed FPP block.
Now you’re getting the hang of it, let’s try another example…
For this example, we’re going to piece the Cross & Crown quilt block (block 29 in the supplement).
We’re going to start with fabric piece 1 in the centre square… we could stitch pieces either side. However, we will soon be blocked by intersecting seams.
The same would occur if we started in the corner so this block cannot be pieced in one go. The spikes facing in all directions mean this block will likely have to be separated into several units.
If you step back and look at it with fresh eyes, this block structure has a nine-patch grid with long horizontal and vertical seams, so first let’s divide it into rows.
The centre row can be pieced as one unit, and stays as is. The spiked shapes in each corner mean we will have to separate again.
Starting with fabric piece 1 in the corner of the top row, I can add pieces to each side (2, 3 and 4, 5) in sequence. A piece of fabric can also be flipped and stitched without interruption to cover the next two sections (6, 7) to complete the corner units.
Now it’s simply a case of reassembling the block, first back into rows and then joining the rows together.
As with everything, the more blocks you try, the better you will get at seeing the order in which to add fabric pieces. I advise always making a practice block first, before using any precious fabrics.
Always remember to physically write the numbers on to your unit or block sections, to avoid mistakes. It can also help to write the colour of the fabric, to get your placement right.
TIP! Another way to handle blocks with lots of intersecting seams is to pre-piece units such as four-patches and HSTs and use these within the block. Just make sure seams align with the marked lines.
Laura Pritchard, Technical Editor
If you liked this, try these…
- Foundation Paper Piecing (FPP) tutorial
- How to sew Laura’s Cathedral Window Pin Cushion
- How to sew set-in seams