Sunday, 18 August 2013

Patchwork Quilt: 3. A Guide to Paper Piecing + Free Pattern!

Following on in our patchworking series, we thought we'd talk you through the paper piecing process with our latest quilt as an example. Even better - we'll show you how to make one of the blocks we designed - and give you the block pattern for free!

What is paper piecing?

As far as I'm aware there are two styles of paper piecing - English and American. English paper piecing involves tacking the material to lots of paper diamonds or hexagons and then sewing along the edges that are nicely defined by the paper inside, creating intricate regular patterns. American paper piecing involves having your pattern drawn on paper, sticking the fabric to it and sewing along the lines, trimming the shapes to size as you go along. American paper piecing is often used to create more unusual shapes. At the end of both you remove the paper templates. These methods allow precise piecing of shapes and patterns which is exactly what we need with these celtic knot blocks. We're using the American paper piecing in this case.

Left: This quilt by Jenny's mum uses English paper piecing. Right: Our cat quilt is American paper pieced.

How is it done?

1. Start by printing the pattern onto freezer paper. This paper is normal on one side - which allows you to print on your design, while the other side becomes sticky when warm - this means you can iron your fabric to it and it will stay put. In the case of this celtic knot, the patten is made up of three triangles. Cut out roughly around the quarter inch seam markers.
Tip: make sure that your printer is set to no scaling, or 100% scaling to make sure your block is the right size.

A, B and C triangles printed out and trimmed.

These instructions are for one A triangle: for the instructions for a whole block keep reading.

2. Then cut out the material for the A1 shape. These pieces of fabric don't need to be accurate - so long as they are big enough to cover the shape plus 1/4" seam allowance all the way round. Place the fabric pattern side down on your cutting board and then place the paper on top of this printed side up. Cut around the shape you are after, but don't cut the paper! While you're here you might want to cut out the rest of the pieces for the A triangle too.
Tip: remember to think about which way round the fabric will end up - and which direction you might want your fabric to sit. Is the pattern directional?

A1 cut to fit the shape plus seam allowances, plus a bit extra.
3.Take your first piece (A1) and iron it, right side up, to the shape labelled one.
Tip: put the material onto the ironing board first, followed by the freezer paper sticky side down  so that your iron doesn't stick to the paper.

A1 ironed to the paper.

4.Take A2 and sit it right side down on top of A1. The shape should sit such that when you sew along the line between A1 and A2, fold A2 open and iron it flat, A2 will cover its requisite shape and seam allowance. Getting this positioning right can be the key to the whole process, so take your time and find a way that suits you. Cutting your material with plenty of room to spare will also help this.

5.Sew along the line between A1 and A2.
Tip: set your machine to a small stitch length, the more holes you make at this stage the easier it will be to remove the paper later.

Sewing the line between A1 and A2.

6. Fold back A2 along the seam and check that it sits correctly. If it does then hold the paper out of the way and cut the seam to 1/4".

Folding the paper out of the way, ready to cut the seam.
Trimming the seam to 1/4".

7. Fold open A2 and press it into position.

Pressing A2 open, and sticking it to the freezer paper.
A2 in position.

8. Repeat steps 4-7 for A3, A4 and A5, completing each in turn before progressing.

Once all the pieces have been attached and pressed, well done - that's the basis of paper piecing.

A triangle finished. Don't worry about excess material at this stage.

So how do I make the whole block?

In order to make a 9" x 9" celtic knot block you will need:
  • 4 print outs of the pattern
  • 1 backing fabric
  • 2 contrasting patterned fabrics for the rings - we used a jelly roll for these (2.5"x44" of fabric)
This pattern relies on making four matching quarters but in two different colourways.

Following the paper piecing guidelines above you will need to make:
  • 2 A triangles where
    • A1 is colour 1
    • A2, A3 and A5 are the background colour
    • A4 is colour 2
  • 2 B triangles where
    • B1 is colour 1
    • B2 and B3 are the background colour
  • 2 C triangles where
    • C1 is colour 2
    • C2 is colour 1
    • C3 is the background colour

  • 2 A triangles where
    • A1 is colour 2
    • A2, A3 and A5 are the background colour
    • A4 is colour 1
  • 2 B triangles where
    • B1 is colour 2
    • B2 and B3 are the background colour
  • 2 C triangles where
    • C1 is colour 1
    • C2 is colour 2
    • C3 is the background colour
When you have this it will look like this:

 Yes, this is made from different material - but the theory is the same.

Next sew each C triangle to a corresponding B triangle (the colours of B1 and C2 should be the same), so that the points marked match.

Ready to sew B to C

If you're happy with the join then trim the seam allowance to 1/4" and remove the paper along this edge. Press open to make a large triangle. 

Then sew each B/C triangle pair to a corresponding A triangle (the colours of A1 and B1 should be the same). Repeat the process of trimming, removing the paper and pressing the seam. After this you should have four squares, two of each colour option.
Tip: getting all points to match nicely can be hard work. We tack ours in place before sewing properly. 
One half done, time for the other.

Finally, sew the squares into pairs, and then into a whole square. Again, trim and press each seam as you go.

Congratulations, you've completed the block, time for a large cup of tea!

Here's the pattern. We've made a PDF version for you, but also included the Quilt Assistant file. This program is free to download, and will allow you to scale the block to make different sizes - or modify it completely if you wish.

If you make the block do send us a picture - we'd love to see the different variations.



  1. Brilliant tutorial. I have never done this before but it's now on the list!

  2. Jenny, not sure if you have already concluded your search for more block patterns. The authoritative, de facto reference used to be "Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns" by Barbara Brackman. You don't want to go paying the silly price Amazon are asking for it (must take more care of my copy!!) but if you can find it in a library then it's well worth a look.

    She has an interesting blog and you might find some inspiration for further blocks

    1. Thanks for the tip - I shall go and investigate!


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