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I have my reasons

March 28, 2012

At a recent sew in, my good friend Laurraine – who had just completed her first beautiful paper pieced pattern for sale, and was happily piecing away – asked me:

Why I do things the way I do when I paper piece?

If you’re not familiar with my process, take a peek at these two video tutorials I did years ago so you can shake your head at me too lol!

Paper Piecing – Cutting your Fabric the Easy Way


Sewing your Paper Pieced Pattern – Part One


These 4 questions seemed to particularly trouble her,

  1. Why do you bother cutting out all of those pieces when you can use a fat quarter sized piece while sewing and simply trim off the excess?
  2. Why don’t you sew into the neighbouring pieces, or into the seam allowance to reinforce your seams when you’re paper piecing?
  3. Why don’t you press your seams open when you sew your sections together? They lay much smoother that way.
  4. Why do you use your clunky big iron? This little thing uses much less energy!

It totally caught me off guard, and since my answers were nowhere to be found in the forefront of my brain, I just teased her for daring to challenge my expert process without leaving her, or anyone else listening in, any explanations!

It wasn’t until I watched my video tutes again a few days later, did all of my answers come flooding back and I had something more profound to offer than “Um, I dunno it’s just how I do it?!”

Ok, so why do I accurately cut out my pieces beforehand?

For a few reasons actually.

Back in the day, I joined a swap on Craftster where I was customizing some pretty difficult blocks which required a lot of pieces. But we only received a certain amount of fabric, and I realized I could ration my fabric quota better when I could lay out how I would cut my pieces beforehand.

I also realized that for me, a bigger piece of fabric doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll end up sewing things well. I’ve done enough seam ripping to learn that my sewing stress declines when my fabric pieces are cut with exact same dimensions/angles as the pattern. And for those weird shapes, having an inch of extra can sometimes mess things up when you’re sewing 1/4″ seams.

But the biggest reason I cut my fabric with a fairly accurate 1/4″ seam allowance and lay them out ahead of time, is so that when time comes to sew, I can just sew and not get bogged down wrestling with big chunks of fabric, and forgetting a piece, or sewing something backwards. It’s a thousand times less stressful and a much smoother process for me to do the prep and be organized beforehand.

The one exception to this rule is when I’m sewing teeny tiny pieces. Yeah, I just cut a much bigger piece that I can actually hold and manipulate.

Why do I insist on sewing exactly on the stitching line and not beyond?

There was one project I was sewing where I sewed into the neighbouring pieces, and even though it shouldn’t happen, several of my stitching lines ended up showing. It was so frustrating!

I also discovered that it was much easier to line up my next piece and trim my seam allowances when I fold the paper back along that stitching line. When you sew past your lines this becomes impossible in many cases.

I choose to back stitch within the lines and not into the seam allowances for two reasons,

  1. It’s easier to remove the paper at the end,
  2. and when I trim my seam allowances, I’m not worrying about cutting through my stitching and possibly causing unraveling during paper removal from these loose unsecured ends, especially when I occasionally end up with a 1/8″ seam allowance.

Why do I press all of my seam allowances in the same direction or in the direction of least resistance, and never open?

Ever burn your fingertips with your iron?

Ok so that’s my quick answer, but the other reason is to reinforce the stitches. Press your section seam allowances open and you might notice how those stitches are now showing, and are under more strain and at risk of breaking. Especially if those sections have multiple layers of pieces.

Nope, I’d rather have my stitches hidden and nicely reinforced thankyouverymuch!

So Laurraine did convince me to buy a little craft iron, especially for those sew ins and retreats where you can’t bring a big iron. It’s perfect for that I agree.

However, as I’m piecing away, my project tends to grow layers pretty quickly and I find the nice weight and light steam of my big iron much more effective at pressing my projects and all those extra layers of fabric and paper.

And I’m clearly too distracted to keep close enough tabs on this little iron


And if you’ve looked closely at those videos and at the latest photo tutorial I made, you will have noticed that I cut off all the seam allowances from my patterns before I sew.

Yes, I know all of my new patterns have seam allowance markings. I polled my readers once and the overwhelming majority preferred them included. So I add them now just for you!

You see, when I first learned to paper piece, I was constantly cutting my fabric pieces wrong because I would get confused from seeing the seam allowance marked along only some of the edges and not all of them. The process was confusing enough for me, and that problem went away when I removed those markings.

I’ve also noticed that it’s easier for me to line up and pin my sections together without the paper in the seam allowances. It’s too slippery and bulky for me.

So there you have it!

I’m all about streamlining my process, and I realized the other night while doing some English paper piecing on the couch, that I’ll constantly tweak how I do things until I can work smoothly and quickly with the least amount of fiddling and thinking.

Even if it means learning to do things left handed. Yup, I think I might have a serious case of craft OCD lol!

Next time I’ll have to show you how I thread my needles and tie my knots in one fell swoop!

Happy sewing everyone!

11 Comments leave one →
  1. March 28, 2012 1:50 pm

    Very illuminating Sonja, I wish I lived closer to come and quilt with you sometime….I’ve introduced my Frankenstien quilt to the ladies, they all thought it was great and its still a top!

  2. kritta22 permalink
    March 28, 2012 9:47 pm

    Ohh I need to see you thread your needle and knot!!!

    I never thought about why I do things. It just works for me. I do things different too.

    Are you left handed?

  3. March 29, 2012 6:28 am

    All good tips! I will be trying your tip on seam allowances for sure 🙂

  4. NellyKelly permalink
    March 29, 2012 10:03 am

    Oh thank you thank you thank you! I’ve just found your site, and I’m brand spankin’ new to quilting and you are so talented and such a wonderful teacher! I’m over excited and writing run- on sentences as a result! I’ve been watching and reading your tutorials and looking at your beautiful, inspiring work all morning. Just had to drop you a little note to say thanks for being you and sharing you with us all! God bless! ( I’ll be hanging around now, so you’ll probably hear from me again soon. Hopefully I won’t gush like a schoolgirl next time!)

  5. March 29, 2012 10:47 am

    I’m glad they changed the design on the mini iron! LOL! I bought one that had a metal post and I made the mistake of putting my thumb on it to give it more weight! Ow.

  6. March 29, 2012 1:27 pm

    Okay okay I’ll try again. I did watch that video a long long time ago but you just rock at paper piecing. I… do not. : )

    ~Monika in Saskatoon

  7. March 29, 2012 6:31 pm

    Oh – that mini iron is kind of awesome! Thanks for explaining your whys and wherefores – it’s so interesting to see why people do the things they do!

  8. March 30, 2012 10:25 am

    Omgosh, thanks for leaving such nice comments ladies!!

    Carli – I would love to hang out and quilt with you! You need to post shots of your Frankenstien in the flickr group!

    Kritta22 – I’m not a lefty, but my mom is 🙂

    Nelly – You’re too sweet! I’m so glad you’re having fun exploring my blog! let me know if you have any questions about paper piecing ok? That goes for you too Monika – you can doo eet!

    Ruthie – Dang! I once burned my boob, baking in my bikini back in the day LOL!

    Megan – that mini iron is awesome. I love the shape of it.

    and *hugs* to karen 🙂

  9. March 31, 2012 9:41 am

    This was so interesting and informative. I need to paper piece several Bee blocks this month, and I am going to try your method. It makes so much more sense than the way I have done it previously, which I found incredibly frustrating and wasteful, even if the end result was nice. THANK YOU!

  10. April 2, 2012 12:45 pm

    I feel better about the way I do it now, in that I do everything exactly the same as you! Well sort of, I don’t accurately cut 1/4″ seam allowance on the pieces first, I cut anywhere up to 1″ to allow myself a margin of error, and I always seem to need it 😀

  11. April 30, 2012 8:31 am

    I watched your demo’s closely, and thank you, paper piecing is so much cleared to me now. I have always shunned away from anything to do with paper piecing because it was always such a mission to get things lined up. Thank you.

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