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Learning to Paper Piece

July 31, 2008

Okay, for those of you who want to learn paper piecing, but are as stumped as I was when I first tried to learn, here is a step by step tutorial to help you figure it out.

This is what we’re making:

It’s a fancy mushroom, to go with the patterns I’ll be posting in the next 2 tutorials.


Click here to download your pattern:

mushroom pattern

Print out 3 – One to cut your pieces from, one to sew, one to follow as your guide.

First, cut out your pieces. Make sure your fabric is right side down, as the finished block will be the opposite of the pattern (doesn’t matter for this particular pattern though)

ALSO – add at least 1/4″ seam allowance around every piece. Better still make it a 1/2″ just to be on the safe side. (I’m lazy when cutting, I often just eyeball it so having the extra wiggle room saves my butt from having to cut another piece. This is where all of those beautiful scrap pieces of fabric that are too small to do any substantial project come into play Yippie! 😀

mushroom getting started

oh yeah, a little side note: I really wanted to use that dark brown fabric, but only had itty bits of it. So I sewed them together to make a piece large enough for the stem of the mushroom. This stuff never gets noticed in pieced pieces.

Alright, now take your pattern and lay it face down on the table:

mushroom pattern face down

Take piece #1 and lay it on top of the pattern, right side up:

mushroom piece one layed on

Right, ok so how the heck can I tell if it’s in the right spot?

The dang pattern’s upside down….

mushroom checking seam alignment

Ah ha!

So, now we tack that first piece down. You can either pin it to the paper, or sew it on. For this first piece ONLY, sew a line a little ways into the section for piece #2, but still catching the fabric. Oh, you need to flip the whole thing over, so your fabric is laying under the pattern, which is now right side up and in your sewing machine.

BIG NOTE: set your stitch length a bit shorter than usual to help perforate the paper so it tears out easily. Except when working a complex pattern with a bunch of small pieces. You really don’t want those bits of paper falling out before you’re ready.

ok, sew:

mushroom piece one tacked down

Here’s how this step looks when you’re done:

mushroom piece one sewn

Now, take piece #2, and lay it right side down on top of piece #1, and line up the seam allowance above the stitching line on the pattern… Um..what??

Ok, take a look see:

Mushroom piece 2 layed on

Hold it up to the light if you need to. For complex patterns with small pieces I usually pin my pieces down so they don’t shift when I flip the pattern over to sew.

Now sew the line between piece #1 and piece #2:

mushroom piece 2 getting sewn

NOTE: Be really accurate, sew exactly on the line, start and stop exactly where the line does. This will help keep the finished block looking like it supposed to. Trust me, I learned the exceedingly frustrating way.

Flip and press your seam. Now I switched the iron over to my left hand so I could take the picture with my right. THIS IRON PLACEMENT IS WRONG. Always start on the base fabric, and slide the iron over onto the new piece. This keeps the seams ironed nicely and your pieces fitting properly over the pattern.

mushroom piece 2 getting ironed

Ok, so now where are we… ah right, place piece number 3 face down on top of piece number two lining up the edges. Hmm, need to check the placement?

mushroom piece 3 layed on

Flip ‘er over and sew the line between #2 and #3:

Then flip it over again, and press your seam..the proper way not this weird way:

mushroom piece 3 getting ironed

Okay, getting the idea? So now line up piece #4:

mushroom piece 4 layed on

Don’t forget to put that sucker FACE DOWN. I’ve mucked that part up sooo many times. The seam ripper is my friend.

Stitching piece #4 here:

mushroom piece 4 getting sewn

Hey, were nearly done!

mushroom piece 4 ironed

Ok, so now I’m sure you can do piece #5 on your own. *wildly cheering you on*

But just in case, here’s piece #6 going down (which is essentially the same as #5):

mushroom piece 6 layed on

….and getting sewn:

mushroom piece 6 getting sewn

Press that puppy and look! The sewings all done 😀

mushroom sewing all done

So, while you have those lovely straight edges of your pattern still attached, trim your seams to keep a good 1/4″ seam allowance.

mushroom trimming seam allowances

Now comes the fun part, tearing out the paper! Now it sometimes helps to crease the paper first and tear slowly. Some people also spray the paper lightly with a water bottle. You really don’t want to tear out your beautiful stitching as well.

mushroom tearing out the paper

And whaddaya know, you’re all done. Easy as pie!

mushroom all done

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Mom Raggs permalink
    April 30, 2009 2:50 pm

    Hope to follow this pattern and learn how to PP. Thank you so much.
    mom raggs aka Joan in IL

  2. September 8, 2009 7:31 am

    It might be me, but I was lost on instructions for Piece #1 – right after you said it was ‘upside down’ – I must need a much more simpliefied version. I have seen this done however on tv so I can probably figure it out once I sit down – reading sounds complicated.

    But your quilt pieces look great!

  3. September 9, 2009 4:01 pm

    Oh it’s not you, the whole process is bloody confusing at first! Ok. are you referring to the “dang pattern’s upside down” picture? Here I’m holding my pattern (which was face down on the table) with my fabric, (which lies face up on top of the back of the pattern) up to the light so I can see through the pattern to see how well the fabric piece is laying within the stitching/pattern lines.

    What I usually do is lay the pattern face down. Then position my fabric piece on top of the pattern with the right side of the fabric showing (wrong side down) Then I either place a temporary pin, or just hold it securely, then flip them over so that the fabric is now underneath the pattern, which is now lying right side up showing me the line I need to sew.

    One day when my life calms down a bit, I’ll do a little video tutorial.

    Let me know if this helps!

  4. Louise permalink
    January 19, 2013 3:55 pm

    I love this so much, it is a wonderful and easy to understand tutorial. Thank you so much for the time, the pictures and the explanations.

  5. Michelle permalink
    October 12, 2014 5:11 pm

    Thanks for the great tutorial, I’ve looked at a million of them and this is the only one that made any sense to me.


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