Tips for Fabulous Foundations

In the September/October ’12 issue of Quiltmaker, we focus on foundation piecing. You’ll find the innovative Pile O’ Leaves from Caroline Reardon, the more traditional Faith, Hope & Love by Carolyn McCormick and Sonja Callaghan’s whimsical Did Someone Say Treat?

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Pile O' Leaves by Caroline Reardon

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Faith, Hope and Love by Carolyn Cullinan McCormick


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Did Someone Say Treat? by Sonja Callaghan

So many different looks from one technique! And if you’re new to foundation piecing, we’ll even take you through the basics, step-by-step.

I am absolutely addicted to foundation piecing, so I thought I’d share some tips.

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stack of foundation-pieced blocks ready to assemble

Paper: When selecting paper for this technique, consider how you will print the foundations, the paper transparency and tear-ability. Most of the time I use plain old copy paper, but I recently tried and highly recommend Simple Foundations Translucent Vellum Paper from Anita Grossman Solomon and C&T Publishing.

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You can see how much easier it is to position the patches under the translucent paper.100 0583 00 e1344011995763 271x300 Tips for Fabulous Foundations

Fabric: Any cotton fabric you use for piecing and applique will work in foundation piecing, but my very favorite are batiks. Have you ever sewn a foundation piece wrong side up? When I use batiks, I don’t even have to think about it–there is no wrong side!

Cutting the Patches: This is a foundation piecer’s biggest challenge. You want to be sure patches are big enough without too much wasted fabric. I use the Add-Enough tool by Carolyn McCormick from CM Designs, Inc. ( for measuring patch sizes. Just line it up with the bottom of the patch, note the measurement and add 1/4″ to the dimension for a little insurance. I’ve never run short. (And it can also be used to fold back the paper before trimming.)

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Add-Enough tool

For really odd shaped patches, try this: Copy the foundation onto freezer paper and cut apart the pieces. The freezer paper pieces are used as templates. Just iron to the back of the fabric and add an additional 1/2″ on all sides. The fabric can be stacked and the freezer paper re-used to cut several patches. I prefer keeping the straight-of-grain along outside edges, and often use this method for corner patches.

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freezer paper template ironed to the back of the fabric

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Sewing in a patch cut from a template

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Works like a charm!

Testing: Always make a test block first. I keep a list of my colors and patch sizes. When I know the sizes will work and the fabrics look good together, then I cut multiples.

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Recording my cutting dimensions

Trimming: My “must have” foundation piecing tool is Carolyn McCormick’s Add-a-Quarter ruler. It has a lip that butts right up to the folded paper to cut that perfect 1/4″ seam allowance.

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Using the Add-Enough to fold back the paper and Add-a-Quarter to trim

Pressing: I like a hot iron (no steam!). For small patches, I sometimes use a “little wooden iron.”

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Using a wooden iron.

Unsewing: Smaller stitches make ripping more difficult. Using a seam ripper with a sharp point, I cut every third or fourth stitch from the fabric side. 100 0605 300x225 Tips for Fabulous Foundations  Turning to the paper side, I lift the top thread and gently tug. If the paper rips too much, mend it with transparent tape before re-sewing.

100 0606 300x225 Tips for Fabulous Foundations  Removing the paper: Once all the seams around a foundation have been sewn, the paper can be removed. To make it easier, I use a larger needle (90/14) to perforate the paper and Aurifil thread which doesn’t break easily. I start by removing the paper at the outside edges of the foundation. To remove inside papers, gently pull the fabric away from the paper at the seam line, and the paper will pop right out.

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Removing paper on a test block.

We think you’ll enjoy sewing up any one of the fun foundation quilts in our newest issue, but you can also find many easy foundation patterns on our website under Project Linus.

If you have a foundation piecing tip, please share it with us. Got a question about the technique? Leave a comment we’ll try to help.

About Eileen Fowler

I am an Associate Editor at Quiltmaker. My quilting hobby, that began over 20 years ago, turned into a career when I was hired by Quiltmaker in 2008. My quilting passion is slowly taking over every nook and cranny in my house. I have a supportive husband who makes it all possible.
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5 Responses to Tips for Fabulous Foundations

  1. Pingback: Quilt Foundation Piecing, Quilt Piecing Tips, Quilt Foundation Tips | DailyCraft - Your Daily Dose of Arts & Crafts Tips, Projects, & Inspiration. Quilting, Sewing, Knitting, Scrapbooking, Card Making and more!

  2. Carole S. says:

    I appreciate the ideas, all. Paper piecing may be my next big challenge, now that you’ve made it look so simple and do-able.

  3. Rene says:

    When paper piecing ,if I am having difficulity removing the paper (I use photocopy paper) I spray alittle water on the back ,let it soak in and they come off real easy.

  4. Rachell R says:

    I don’t even bother cutting pieces….takes more time (doing something twice) and I got sick of not bring able to figure out the angles and “is it big enough”. Too much picking out! I found Peggy Martin’s “Quick Strip Paper Piecing” book, and I fell in love with paper piecing! You cut strips instead of patches, and assembly-line your foundations down the strips, doing the same patch on all foundations before moving on to the next patch. Timesaving, addicting and fun!
    I sit at my sewing machine and have my small table with rotary cutter, ruler and mat on my left, and my iron on the right. I sew the patch, cut apart, trim on the left, then press on the right, then back to the machine in the center for the next strip/patch! Great rhythm!
    Peggy now has her method as a Craftsy online class, and I highly recommend it! I teach her method to everyone I can because I love it. She even shoes you how to adapt her method to all foundations, and I do it for all my foundation-piecing!

  5. Claudia says:

    Personally, I find the paper removal part the peskiest job about foundation piecing.

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