Paper Piecing with Freezer Paper

As promised, this week we’re looking at paper piecing with freezer paper.  I love paper piecing, especially for complicated blocks.  You just can’t beat its accuracy.  While it is a trade-off between fabric and precision (it takes more fabric, but it’s way more accurate), it does make short work of difficult blocks with lots of pieces.  And no matter what you use as the paper medium for this, nine times out of ten, the paper has to be removed before the quilt is quilted.  However, this blog deals with that one time out of ten…the one time you don’t have to remove the paper from the quilt top before quilting because it’s already been removed.  When you paper piece with freezer paper, the paper is peeled off as soon as you sew the pieces together.  There are a couple of different methods that deal with using freezer paper as the medium in paper piecing.  We’re looking at both this week.

The first way is what I call the “standard” method.  This is the one most commonly used and the easiest to understand.  This technique uses the same numbered pattern that you use in regular paper piecing, but you don’t stitch through the paper.  Instead, you pre-cut the freezer paper templates, press them onto the fabric, and cut the shape out, adding an extra ¼-inch of fabric for the seam allowance.  Then you sew along the edge of the freezer paper as a stitch guide.  This helps you get the really super-sharp points.  When the block is finished, you simply peel the freezer paper off.  There is no stubborn paper to wiggle out of places where seams are joined or other tight spots because you don’t sew through the freezer paper.  This is a simple process and it’s easy to learn.

However, there are couple of cons to this method, the first one being accuracy.  Because you’re not stitching directly on a line, you won’t have the same level of precision as you do in regular paper piecing.  The second drawback is the amount of prep time this method takes.  Instead of simply printing parts of the block (or the entire block itself) out on a piece of paper and cutting just those out, each part of the pattern printed on the freezer paper must be cut out individually.  This takes more time.  However, if the quilt block has no tiny, sharp points or isn’t too complicated, this method works well, despite the amount of prep time.  The process goes like this:

  1. Start off by transferring your pattern templates onto freezer paper.  The easiest way to do this is to copy or print your pattern via your ink jet printer onto the 8-1/2-inch by 11-inch freezer paper that is printer compatible.  If you have to use a roll of freezer paper from the grocery store, you’ll have to trace the pattern onto it.  Use a ruler to keep your lines straight and trace carefully.  Cut each template out on the solid lines.  Don’t include the seam allowances on the templates.  Mark each piece with the pattern numbers or letters and make note of any special instructions —  like where to place the pattern along the grain line of the fabric.

Press each freezer paper template shiny side down onto the wrong side of the fabric.  Lay out pieces with enough space between them to allow a ¼-inch seam allowance on each piece.  Using a ruler and a rotary cutter, cut out each piece with the added ¼-inch seam allowance all the way around each piece. 

Pin two units together, inserting a pin through a point in one piece, and matching it up to the point on the second piece. 

Stitch the seam, working slowly and carefully, to avoid stitching on the paper.  Stitch very closely along the edge of the paper.  Unlike regular paper piecing, there is no need to shorten your stitch length, since perforating the paper isn’t necessary.  An open-toe foot, such as an applique foot, is a wonderful option for this part, as it allows for better visibility.

Press the seam open but keep the freezer paper in place.

Continue adding pieces in this same manner matching points, stitching along the edges of the paper, and pressing seams open.

When you’re finished, simply peel off the freezer paper and sew the units together.

The next  freezer paper method is a little more complicated.  If I want to use freezer paper for paper piecing and accuracy is a complete must (in other words, there is no “fudging” whatsoever in what I’m working on – like a border), this is the method I use.  The one of the difference between this method and the “standard” freezer paper method is freezer paper will be used for a master foundation pattern, as well as for individual templates.  This method works really well for compass designs (such as Mariner’s Compass) or blocks that have super-angular, thin points, such as New York Beauty.  To begin, make two copies of the pattern on the dull side of the freezer paper.  One copy will be used as the master foundation patterns and will not be cut apart.  The other will be used as individual templates.  The master patterns should all of the individual units a block requires.  Cut the master foundation pattern out, leaving a margin of paper around the outer edge.  Set this aside.  Take the template patterns and place them on another sheet of freezer paper.  Make sure the shiny side of the freezer paper is facing down for both sheets, and press them together with enough heat so that they bond securely together.  This makes your templates a bit sturdier. 

Cut out the paper piecing units, leaving a margin of paper around them.  Then cut the individual units out on the solid line.  Now you have your templates.

Press the templates to the wrong side of the fabric, leaving about one inch of space between the templates.  Cut them out, leaving about ½-inch seam allowance around each side. 

The dotted edge (the edge with a small dotted line) is the side that we need to turn.  Go ahead and plug in your iron (a small travel iron or a mini-iron works best), gather some spray starch and a small brush.  With the brush, paint some of the starch on the dotted edge fabric  seam allowance.  While the starch is still wet, fold the seam allowance over the template and press until dry.  Pull the template off and press again if you need to.

Repeat this process for all dotted edge seam allowances. 

Take the master foundation pattern to your pressing surface and place it shiny side down to the pressing surface.  Pin the first template piece that you’ve prepped with fabric onto the surface, wrong side up.  Make sure the fold aligns with the seam line on the master foundation pattern.

Place a thin line of basting glue on the fold line of the first piece.  Make sure to place the glue only along the edge where the second piece will overlap it. 

Place the second piece, wrong side up, on the master foundation pattern.  Be careful that the fold of the second piece aligns with the seam line of the master pattern.  Heat set this. 

On the second piece, put a fine line of basting glue on the fold where the third piece will go.  Place the third piece the same way you did the second piece and heat set. 

  Continue in this manner until you’ve assembled all the pieces in a unit.  When you get ready to give it final press before sewing, because there are no papers involved, you can press the seams however you need to (and to the darker fabric as much as you can).  But if you need to reduce bulk so it can be quilted easier, you can press the seams open or to the light side if you have to. 

Now you have to sew the units together.  The numbers on the patches in the master pattern indicate the sewing sequence.  I do shorten my stitch length a bit.  My default stitch length is a little long (in my opinion) for any piecing, so I always shorten it a bit.  A quarter-inch foot or an open-toe embroidery/applique foot works wonderfully for this.  Put your needle in center position and if your machine has an up/down option, program it for needle down. 

Lift one of the units off the master pattern and open the first seam until you can completely see the crease left by the fold.  Sew slowly and carefully directly on  this fold.  After completing the seam, trim the seam allowance to a scat ¼-inch.  Following the numerical sequence, continue sewing the seams in this manner.  Once all the units are made, you’ll need to check it against the master foundation pattern one more time.  Take the master pattern and press it onto the right side of the pieced unit, making sure to align the pattern lines with the seams.  Trim the completed unit so that the outer seam allowance measures ¼-inch.  Make as many units as your block needs, then sew the units together to make the block. 

A couple of hints at this point.  On average, the templates can be used seven to ten times before the edges get too soft and won’t give you a crisp fold.  If you make several sets of templates and set this process up as an “assembly line,” you’ll find this goes pretty fast.  I mentioned before in my blog on hand applique, that it’s important to use a type of basting glue that doesn’t your fabric stiff.  That’s important, here, too.  Even though you’re sewing with a machine, and that has lots of power behind the needle to go through layers of fabric and glue, you don’t want to have it leave the fabric feeling stiff or possibly breaking your needle.

I hope you consider one (or both) of these methods the next time you need to paper piece a block.  With a little planning and some extra prep time, you may find you really like this method.  Bonus…when you’re through, there are no pesky papers to remove.

Until next week, Level Up Your Quilting!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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