The WWQP How-To's

 Foundation Block Piecing

Foundation block piecing consists of sewing pieces of fabric on to a paper or a muslin foundation to form a quilt block. While this technique is most often used for miniature blocks, foundation piecing can be used for creating full sized quilt blocks as well. Using the foundation piecing technique to piece blocks allows a quilter to construct complicated patterns easily and accurately and is a very good way to use up small scraps of fabric.

Foundation Blocks

 Patterns for foundation blocks vary from a normal quilt block pattern in that each new piece must be able to be joined to the foundation with a single, straight seam. Each portion of the block is numbered to indicate the order in which the pieces are to be joined to the foundation block. For machine piecing, paper is used for the foundation block. For hand piecing, foundations must be transferred to a cloth backing such as muslin. There are several sources for foundation paper blocks. They may be purchased already printed, they may be photocopied from several books currently available on foundation paper piecing, or they can be drawn by hand or by using a computer drawing program. For foundation piecing by hand, the pattern must be transferred to the backing fabric. Muslin with freezer paper ironed on to the back can be fed through many computer printers. The quilter is advised to check his/her printer manual to see if this option is possible.

Foundation Paper Piecing Background Information

 When performing foundation paper piecing, remember that the block will be created on the unprinted side, the back, of the foundation paper. Any directional block design must take into account this factor. The grain of the fabric used to create the foundation pieced block should follow normal piecing guidelines. That is, try to have the straight grain of the fabric on the edge of the block. Having the grain slightly off in the pieces will not effect the block piecing as much as in non paper piecing due to the stability added by the foundation paper. To make the removal of the foundation paper easier, follow the following guide lines:

  1. Use a large needle in the sewing machine, a size 14 should work.

  2. Use a small stitch size, at least 14 stitches to the inch.

  3. After sewing a piece of fabric to the foundation, fold the foundation paper on the just sewn line when trimming the seam allowance. Unfold the paper before pressing the newly attached piece of fabric into place.

Step by Step Guideline for Foundation Paper Piecing

  1.  Select the foundation paper pattern and the fabrics desired to create the block. The block pieces must be attached in the numeric order indicated on the foundation block paper.

  2.  Cut a piece of fabric large enough to cover the piece #1 plus at least a quarter inch seam allowance. Place the piece of fabric on the back of the foundation paper with the wrong side of the fabric facing the back of the foundation paper taking care to watch the grain line of the fabric. Hold the paper up to a light source to make sure that the piece of fabric is covering foundation piece #1 with at least a quarter of an inch overhang on all sides. If desired, hold this first piece of fabric in place with a dab of glue from a glue stick.

  3.  Cut a piece of fabric large enough to cover piece #2, again with at least a quarter of an inch seam allowance all around. Place this piece of fabric on the wrong side of the foundation square with the right side of this new fabric piece on top of the right side of fabric piece #1. There should be at least a quarter of an inch seam allowance extending into foundation piece #2.

  4.  Carefully turn the foundation paper over so the marked side of the paper is facing you taking care not to disturb either fabric piece that has just been placed. Sew on the line of the foundation which divides piece #1 and piece #2.

  5.  Fold fabric piece #2 over the seam just sewn and perform a quick check that this piece has been properly placed by holding the foundation paper up to light source. Foundation piece #2 should be totally covered by this new piece of fabric with at least a quarter of an inch extra on all sides. If it doesn't, remove the stitching and reposition the fabric,then resew the seam.

  6.  When fabric piece #2 has been correctly positioned and sewn, place the block on a rotaty cutting mat with the printed side of the foundation block facing upwards. Fold the foundation paper on the seam line just sewn so that the printed sides of that paper are facing each other and the seam allowance of fabric piece #1 and fabric piece #2 is exposed. Trim the seam allowance to one quarter of an inch. A rotary cutter will make this step much easier. Note: When piecing small miniature blocks, a one eighth of an inch seam allowance should be used.

  7.  Unfold the foundation paper and press fabric piece #2 into position. While finger pressing will work, pressing with an iron will produce a more accurate block and also flattens the fold line foundation paper out.

  8. Repeat steps 3 and 7 to attach the remaining fabric pieces to the foundation paper.

  9. When all of the pieces of fabric have been attached to the foundation paper, give the block a final pressing. Next, trim the edges of the block making sure to leave a quarter of an inch seam allowance on all sides of the block. The foundation paper can be removed at this point or the paper can be left in the blocks until the blocks have been set together.

Further Information on Foundation Paper Piecing

 To allow for more patterns to be done by foundation piecing some foundation blocks require two pieces of fabric being joined BEFORE being sewn the the foundation paper. This prior sewn seam is indicated by a line slashed by two smaller lines. To perform this type of piecing, sew the two desired pieces of fabric together and press the seam allowance to one side. When placing the previously joined fabrics to the foundation paper, be sure the seam will match the double slashed line. Proceed normally with the remainder of the block piecing. Be sure to be generous when cutting the fabric pieces to be sewn to the foundation. Excess fabric can always be trimmed. Undoing seams in foundation paper piecing is not easy and the foundation paper can become torn. Also be careful when trimming the excess fabric from the seam allowance. If the piece of fabric just attached to the foundation is folded prior to trimming the seam allowance, it is possible to cut the just placed piece of fabric off instead of the excess fabric. Several good books on foundation paper piecing are currently available for further reference. Check with local book stores or quilting stores for titles.

Foundation Paper Piecing FAQ

© 1994-1999 Susan E Traudt

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