Paper Piecing Has Gone to the Birds

One of my quilt goals this year was a temperature quilt. I’m not sure why this particular type of quilt tickled my fancy in 2023, but I decided back in November 2022 I wanted to make one. The premise behind a temperature quilt is to tell the weather story for an entire year. You pick a range of temperatures and then assign a color to each range. My range goes like this:

24 degrees and below — dark blue

25 – 29 degrees — royal blue

30 – 34 degrees — blue

35 – 39 degrees — light blue

40 – 44 degrees — ice blue

45 – 49 degrees — lightest turquoise

50 – 54 degrees — light turquoise

55 – 59 degrees — turquoise

60 – 64 degrees — yellow green

65 – 69 degrees — yellow

70 – 74 degrees — orange

75 – 79 degrees — red orange

80 – 84 degrees — red

85 – 90 degrees — magenta red

90 plus degrees — magenta

I wanted the five degree breaks in the range so I could use a large variety of fabric colors. Range decided, I began scrolling through Pinterest (you know that place…the place where you literally lose hours of your life you never get back) and Google. I saw temperature quilts made of squares and rectangles, and others made of circles. Some quilters decided to use a Cathedral Windows and others opted for Yo-yos. Each day the quilter makes one square (or Cathedral Window, Yo-yo, etc) representing the low temperature of the day and another representing the high.

That’s right. You heard correctly.

Two. Every day. One for the high temperature and the other for the low.

I know me, and I know no matter how well I planned out my time, making two whatevers a day wouldn’t always work. And even if I decided to push my temperature quilt to a weekend-only project, that leaves 14 units to make over a 48-hour period. Nope. Definitely wouldn’t work for me. There are other quilts I want to make. So I searched for alternatives and found this pattern:

These adorable birds are brought to you courtesy of the extremely talented Bethanne Nemesh (pattern can be purchased as a download at The birds come in two sizes and two different levels of complexity. I used the bird in the picture above. The head and back represent the average highs of the week. The cheek and tail the average lows. Now take a look at the wing. There are seven “feathers” in the top row and seven in the bottom. Each of the feathers on top represent the daily high temperatures, beginning with Sunday. The bottom feathers represent the daily lows. All which means instead of making two blocks a day, I just make one bird a week.

I considered this a win.

This is also a paper-piecing pattern. Which I considered another win. And as I have been sewing through my birds (and I’m happy to report I’m not behind on this project), I begin to wonder how many of you like to paper piece and if you’d like to know how I work my way through the process.

I love to paper piece, but that has not always been the case. When I was first introduced to the technique, I couldn’t wrap my mind around reversing everything in my head. I struggled through a couple of blocks and then decided paper pieceing wasn’t for me. A few years ago a certified Judy Neimyer instructor offered classes at my local quilt store and several of my quilty friends pressured me encouraged me to sign up. In case you are unaware, all Judy Neimyer patterns are paper pieced. I took the class, and was taught some different techniques. All in all, I came away from the classes and the quilt with a different attitude about paper piecing. I had found my Zen.

Now let’s see if I can help you find yours.

One of the biggest reasons to chose paper piecing over traditional piecing is that it is exact. Your blocks will turn out nearly perfect, all the same size, every time. Yes, it does take a bit more material than traditionally pieced blocks, but you’re trading fabric for precision. Paper piecing also allows you to make blocks which possibly couldn’t be constructed any other way — like these birds. The first step I take once I have the pattern in hand is to write down on each unit of the pattern which color of fabric goes there.

Let’s park it here for a few sentences and talk about the medium I use for paper piecing. I don’t use copy paper — although it can be used. I prefer June Tailor’s Perfect Piecing Paper. It is non-woven (which means it will tear away cleanly), and feels a bit like interfacing. It is available on Amazon for around $17.80 for a 50-sheet pack. It comes in 8 1/2 x 11-inch pieces, and will run through your ink jet printer, laser printer, or copier just fine. Personal note — I have found it works best if you empty your paper tray of regular copy paper and use one sheet at a time of the Perfect Piecing Paper in the paper tray. It is sheer (see picture above), which means you can see your pattern clearly on the back as well as the front. I always remove my papers from my quilt top before quilting if the quilt is meant to go on a bed. However, I have left these papers in if it’s a wall hanging. It adds a bit more stiffness and I think it helps the wall hanging lie straight and flat against a wall. Also a personal note — If I am quilting any top with these papers on my long arm, the paper come out. My long arm doesn’t like them. The needle speed tends to shred the papers. However, my domestic stationary machine has no issue with them. Added plus, I have found removing the Perfect Piecing Papers a lot easier process than copy paper.

The second step for me is trimming down the pattern to a manageable chunk. With most paper piecing patterns, the solid lines are the sewing lines and the dotted lines are the trim lines. Notice when I cut my pattern out, I left about a 1/4-inch of pattern margin around it. You want your fabric to overhang the trim line. This way when you trim your pattern, it will come out the exact size needed, with all areas filled with fabric. Also noticed the small pile of scrappage on my cutting mat. If I am working with patterns like these birds which have a lot of small pieces, I can often find a scrap of fabric which will fill the area just fine and conserve my other material for larger areas.

After my pattern is prepped, I attach my walking foot. I prefer to use this foot when I paper piece. If the pattern is intricate, or has several seams crossing at the same point, bulk can build up between all the fabric and the paper. The walking foot helps keep everything moving along at the same pace, expecially if you’re able to add dual feed into the equation.

Now it’s time to add the first piece of fabric to the pattern. Some quilters simply pin this piece into place, but I’ve always preferred glue. Elmer’s Washable Glue School Glue Stick works perfectly wonderful (and can be purchased at many dollar store establishments).

Paper pieced patterns are numbered. Find the part of the pattern with the number 1 on it and cut out a piece of fabric which will not only cover the section, but also overlap it by at least 1/4-inch. With my budgie-bird pattern, the first piece is the beak. I cut a triangle larger than the beak…

and glued it into place. You can see how the fabric overhangs the sewing lines all the way around the triangle by at least 1/4-inch. Once that’s done, locate the second section of the pattern, which in my case is the ridge above the birdie’s nose. Now I have to prep my fabric for that.

We need to trim down the fabric just a bit to reduce some of the bulk. Here’s where all those advertising postcards come in handy. Line the edge of one of these postcards up with the sewing line of the next section and fold the paper pattern over the edge of the cardboard to expose the fabric.

We want to trim the fabric to have an 1/4-inch seam allowance. There’s a handy-dandy little tool which helps a lot with this — the Add-a-Quarter Ruler. It’s not too expensive and generally most quilt store carry them. If you’re LQS does not, they’re available on Amazon for $8 — $12, depending on if you purchase a single ruler or the dual ruler pack (this has a 6-inch ruler and a 12-inch ruler). The ruler has a ridge on it. You simply lock the ridge against the edge of the paper and cardboard.

Then you trim the fabric off with a rotary cutter.

Let me also add you can purchase Add-an-Eighth Rulers which can be used to trim fabric down to 1/8-inch. If I have a pattern with lots of seams converging on one spot, I have used an Add-an-Eighth to reduce fabric bulk as much as possible. However, usually that is the exception and not the rule. Most of the time I reach for the Add-A-Quarter.

With the seam allowance trimmed down to 1/4-inch, now it’s time to add the second piece of fabric. When you’re cutting fabric to fill the paper pieceing areas, it’s always better to err on the side of being a bit too big than being too little. To check and make sure your fabric will fill the designated area and hang off at least 1/4-inch for the seam allowance, place it over the spot and then flip your patter over tomake sure the area is covered and you have an ample seam allowance. This is one of the reasons why June Tailor’s Perfect Piecing Paper is so wonderful. I can clearly see that the fabric for the bird’s nose ridge fully covers the area.

Flip the paper back over and place the two pieces of fabric right sides together, matching the fabric edges. Pin if needed. You will flip the pattern over again before sewing.

However, before we sew, let’s talk about stitch length. You’ll need to shorten the stitch length a bit when paper piecing. The shorter stitches will perforate the pattern medium a lot, making removing the papers easier. Most sewing machine’s default stitch lenth is around 2.5. My M7’s is 2.4.

I lower it to 2.0. I find this length stills allows for good preforation, but if I do have rip out stitches, the stitches aren’t so close together that it makes the task nearly impossible.

With the fabric pieces next to the feed dogs, begin stitching. You don’t want to begin right on the stitching line. Begin about 1/4-inch away, and backspace or use the knot function on your machine. Stitch along the line, and stop 1/4-inch beyond the end of the line. Then back space or use the knot function on your machine to tie off.

Flip the pattern over and make sure all the areas of the second piece are filled in and then press. Continue filling in the spaces in numberical order until complete.

Once all the spaces are filled it, give it one more last, good press. Notice I haven’t trimmed all my thread ends. I generally don’t do this until I remove the papers. If any of the knots somehow come lose during that process, there will be some thread ends to keep the piece together until I can get the block back to the sewing machine and secure the seam again.

After the last press, I line up my Add-a-Quarter Ruler with the dotted trim line and trim usimg my rotary cutter.

Prep the next pattern piece and continue the journey.

Below are the first two columns of my budgie-bird temperature quilt. This pattern is a little different because you don’t assemble the blocks in rows, but columns. I have always found it easier to assemble the quilt as I go rather than wait until I have a pile of blocks to begin the process.

I hope this blog encourages you to try paper piecing. I use it for complicated blocks or small blocks. I paper pieced nearly all the blocks for my Dear Jane quilt and all the blocks for my Farmer’s Wife Quilt. And if you’re working with bias, paper piecing really helps to stabilize the fabric (at least I think so).

Until Next Week, Remember the Details Make the Difference (and paper piecing might help make those details easier!).

Love and Stitches,


6 replies on “Paper Piecing Has Gone to the Birds”

I can tell I would have to start with something very, very simple, not those bird wings! My brain hurts a little, too. I’m not even sure I want to venture into the triangle paper realm. Maybe eventually, but ripping off the papers sounds so tedious.

If you’re a first-time at paper piecing, definitely try something much easier than those birds! I can do one of those in about 45-minutes to an hour, but the very first one took well over an hour. But by now I have the hang of those budgies.

Ripping off the papers isn’t so bad, especially if you have something on TV to watch. It’s mindless and honestly a little stress relieving. You don’t have to think too much as you do it!

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