Foundations for Paper Piecing

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Editor’s Note: ( Be sure to read Elizabeth Dackson’s in-depth technique article ALL ABOUT PAPER PIECING, and see her pattern “Circus Star”  in the Spring issue of Modern Quilts Unlimited. 

Paper piecing is a fun way to make complex and precise designs. If you are not familiar with it, the basic premise is that a paper foundation has a mirror image of the design printed on it, with each fabric addition numbered in the order that they are sewn in place. For the standard paper piecing method, the seam is sewn through both the paper and the fabric using the printed line as a guide. When the top is completed, the papers are removed.

Foundation Papers

Before you rush off to print projects out with your current office supplies, give some thought to the paper you’re using. While you can use standard printer papers (more on that in a bit), they can be a major pain to remove! Instead, check out these papers that are made specifically for paper piecing, using an inkjet printer:

Carol Doak Foundation Paper Sheets
Carol Doak Foundation Paper Sheets

Carol Doak has a line of foundation paper sheets in two sizes (standard and legal size)  that are designed specifically for paper piecing, meaning that they hold up to stitching and repepated pressing with a hot iron and yet still tear away nicely.

Vellum paper in a legal size
Vellum paper in a legal size

Vellum is a translucent material that provides a nice crisp surface and is easy to tear.  The translucency allows for easier placement of fabrics and also allows for tracing designs without a light box.

Straight-up Printer Paper and Newsprint

If you don’t have foundation on hands and have to paper piece immediately, by all means use your printer paper, but be prepared for a potential struggle.  To make it easier, have a spray bottle and tweezers. Lightly mist the paper along the seam lines which will help weaken the fibers there (sometimes I use a Q-tip and a little dish of water and just swipe it on). The tweezers are great for picking out pesky leftovers for any of the papers you use.

I also have used newsprint with success.  You can find letter-sized packs at office supply stores, or cut it down to fit. While it can curl up with the heat of an iron, it will run through most ink jet printers just fine. The good news is, you can always use it for sketching and kid projects if you don’t like it!

Leave-in Foundation

Cristy Fincher of Purple Daisies sells Sharon’s Secret Foundation, which is a paper held together by a bonding agent that dissolves in water. This can be cut to letter or legal size and run through the printer, then used as a regular foundation paper. Instead of removing it at the end before layering and quilting, you would baste your top together and quilt through the whole shebang. After your quilting and binding is complete, you soak the whole quilt top in a full tub of water.  The glue dissolves and the foundation becomes just another bit of fluff inside your quilt, and is nice and soft. I use the regular weight. There are also precut 8″squares that are awesome for foundation piecing string blocks!

Don’t have a subscription and want to make Elizabeth Dackson’s pattern “Circus Star”  in the Spring issue of Modern Quilts Unlimited? Follow this link to subscribe!


Mandy Leins is an author with Stash Books, designer, and longarm quilter. You can find her over at her blog Mandalei Quilts.

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