Getting started in paper piecing quilts

Getting started in paper piecing.  A look at beginner level to expert level paper piecing, links to free patterns.

Well, not actually a how to, just sharing how I started out with a little paper piecing.  I’ve mentioned a lady called Lucy several times now who lives in the US and comes to Cayman to scuba dive with my hubby. She’s helped me out with her long arm quilter, and while she was here last time, I insisted she give me an introductory lesson in paper piecing.

Lucy makes the most amazing quilts and sometimes shares them in our sewing chat group.  Here is one of her recent ones.


Blown away!  She tells me that it’s ‘easy’.  You just follow the pattern, sew along the lines on the paper and it all comes out perfectly.  Well Lucy wasn’t that familiar with my slapdash way of sewing so when I insisted she showed me how this is done, she didn’t realize what she was getting herself into!

She brought along her folder of paper piecing patterns, and showed me how it all worked.  Looking at the latest pattern she is working on, well, I don’t know how she keeps it all so organised with all the cutting charts, cutting templates and sewing templates, and then having to sew it all together to make a final quilt top.  I’m loving the end result of all this work, but wow, it’s many many hours to create something like that.

If you are an experienced quilter, and have the patience of a saint, you can find the pattern for this quilt at CV Quiltworks here, or you can also buy it as a kit complete with the fabric too.


Paper piecing a large design can also be very wasteful in terms of fabric.  The design she is working on next requires 16 yards of fabric to create a quilt top with is just 6 feet square – 4 square yards.  So of the 16 yards you start with, you only end up with 4 of those yards on the top of the quilt, the rest is in the hundreds of tiny seam allowances and in all the fabric wastage.  That’s a bit rich for me!  I get annoyed if I make a dress from 2 yards of fabric and end up with 1/2 a yard left over that is too small to make something else.

But at the end, you do end up with something truly breath-taking.

My first paper piecing

We quickly determined that a beginner block might be more within my level of sewing skills and took a look here at Generations Quilt Patterns.  There are lots of free paper piecing blocks there to try out.  I picked the Nell’s Star.

It was a strange mix of easy and difficult.  Yes, you just ‘sew along the lines’ but lining up the fabric just right, actually sewing perfectly on the line, getting all the joins exactly right – it’s not really easy – for a slapdash sewer anyway.

The block makes a quarter of the finished design, so once I had the 4 made up, I had to join them and of course they didn’t join up exactly.  It wasn’t far out, just one piece was a few mm different, but that was enough to make it lie a little bit funny where I had to ease one piece to match the other.  All those seams and points are supposed to line up exactly – assuming you’ve sewn everything exactly. (Obviously I hadn’t…)

paper piecing

I didn’t take any pictures along the way.  Seemed a bit rude with my own personal expert quilting teacher to ask if we could keep stopping to take photos, so here is the end result instead.  It’s OK but I think this one really qualifies as a sewing fail.


Did I enjoy it – yes I enjoyed having Lucy as my own personal sewing teacher and paper piecing ‘butler’ as she helped me cut and sew all of the fabric pieces, pressed one while I worked on the next etc.

Am I ready to work on a whole quilt?  No I don’t think so.  It was fun, but my small quilting cotton stash isn’t up to making anything larger than a mug rug!  Anyway, the way I sew, in the end all those hundreds of tiny pieced blocks would never fit together well enough to make something that looked as good as hers.


Although maybe if I made a bad enough job of it, it could be my next long-arm quilting challenge for her!

Where to learn more

Craftsy has an array of classes on Paper Piecing, from absolute beginner through to expert level.  Check them out below if you want to make a quilt like Lucy!

Paper piecing collage

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12 Responses to Getting started in paper piecing quilts

  1. irsister7 says:

    Hi Deby, I loved your p.p. Block and your friend’s one was stunning! I just started the Carol Doak class on Craftsy and there is nothing that she doesn’t know about p.p. I too am a complete beginner and found it rather daunting at first but iT’s just like quilting by numbers. Like you, I have problems joining them up at the end but I turned my not so great first one into a cushion which my sister absolutely loves. I never mentioned the mistakes and she didn’t notice – job done lol
    Moral of this long story – don’t point out your own mistakes. Chances are, nobody else will notice.
    Best wishes

  2. Good to hear how you found the experience, Deby. I think your block turned out great. You will be the only one to notice that a couple of points aren’t 100%. Everyone else will see the overall design which is great in the colours you have chosen. I’ve enjoyed my few times Foundation Paper Piecing, but there’s NO way I could do a whole quilt.

  3. stoneysews says:

    Cute block! I do a bit of quilting but have never ever had the desire to paper piece for all the reasons you mentioned above. I do enjoy piecing though, just the regular ol’ way. Or a quilt with squares and simple shapes. That is doable for me!

  4. Kathy Booth says:

    I think it looks great! I had to really really look to see where points/seams did not match. trust me, my mother-in-law would not have matched anything and still called it good, but then again, she would never paper-piece cuz it is so exacting and she’s into speed, not quality work. You did an awesome job! I can’t bring myself to make a quilt using this technique cuz of the fabric waste. Yardage is just too expensive these days…

  5. Susan says:

    Deby, I love your quilt block. And I’m an experienced quilter (and a perfectionists!). Yet I just saw a beautiful quilt when I looked at it, and DIDNT notice, at all, points not matching. And even when you pointed it out, you would need a micrometer and a microscope to notice the tiny little bit that your points are off!

    You should feel proud of what you accomplished. And “they” say, (something I have to work on, myself) NEVER, NEVER, point out your mistakes to others, and they will never notice them, either. Your quilt is beautiful. Be happy about that! Keep your joy! You had fun and it looks great!

  6. Deb McCleary says:

    Very nice for a first try. Press it flat and fuse it with sf101. Then use it on a tote bag or little zipper pouch. You can always make it larger by sewing fabric strips all around then trim it square.

  7. Deby I think that your paper pieced block is very nice. The fabric choices you made really add the depth and eye stopping to look at each section. I have done a few paper pieced projects and had fun until it was time to take off the paper. Since then I have found many tutorials on paper piecing where you do not have to remove the paper, certainly up my alley. Lucy is an amazing paper piecer, I would love to take one of her classes (this time of year money is tight). Thank you for sharing everything you do and have a wonderful creative day!

  8. Linda says:

    I think you did a fine job for a beginner. Sometimes sewing experience doesn’t translate well. You draft patterns – I couldn’t in a million years. But then paper piecing is NOT my thing either. I like sewing big pieces of fabric together then cutting, then sewing back together to make a quilt block/blocks. Seems like magic to me.

  9. Pauline says:

    Lucy’s quilt is amazing!

    • I notice you didn’t say mine was as well (he he). I’ve got a long way to go, but yes, Lucy is an extraordinary quilter.

      • Pauline says:

        I must admit i never noticed your ‘faults’ untill you pointed them out! I was thinking more on the lines of the detail in Lucy’s. i love your color choice and its very good for a first effort. oh dear I dont mean ti sound condesending! Ijust digging myselfa bigger hole!

What do you think?