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Block Lesson #5 // Skill Builder BOM

This post is part of a series of posts for the Skill Builder BOM (Block of the Month). To learn more about the block of the month or to see a list of all posts click here.

I can’t believe we are already on blocks 9 & 10! This year is flying by! Over the last few weeks, I have been working on getting my website back in order. The Skill Builder links weren’t working, but now, I am happy to say, all PDF downloads and links should work. You can see all BOM downloads and links on the Skill Builder BOM page here.

This month, we will be diving into foundation paper piecing with the Geo Swirl and Switz blocks. geo-swirl-block-ad switz-block-ad

Basics of Foundation Paper Piecing

The Foundation

As with every technique we have learned so far in the Skill Builder BOM, there are many different ways to do foundation paper piecing. The methods I use are the ones I prefer, but there are certainly other methods to choose from. I encourage you to give other methods a try, and find the method which suits you.

The first thing to consider is what to use for the foundation. There are permanent foundations and temporary foundations.

Permanent Foundations

A permanent foundation is a great option if you want to permanently stabilize the block you are making. I will sometimes use a mid-weight canvas when making patchwork bags that are foundation pieced. You could also use interfacing or muslin. As I'm sure you can imagine, the permanent foundations stay attached to the block and are sewn into the bag, quilt, etc. with the block.


Temporary Foundations

A temporary foundation is one that will be ripped off the block when you complete the sewing. This is used just as a guide for the block. When using a temporary foundation, you must lower your stitch length to 1.5-2.0 so that the foundation is easier to remove. There are a ton of different temporary foundations out on the market (e.g., vellum, paper piecing foundation (which feels like a dryer sheet), etc.). I have tried several options, but ultimately, I prefer to use classic, regular weight, white printer paper.

Understanding and Preparing the Pattern

When you first begin paper piecing, I think one of the biggest challenges is understanding the pattern. Paper piecing templates can be different depending on who designed them. Sometimes the seam allowance around the entire block is included and sometimes it isn’t. Some patterns are one piece and some are multiple pieces that are eventually pieced together. There is also the dynamic of printing. If you are printing a pattern from your home printer, you need to make sure you’re printing at 100% no scale. Another challenge is with patterns that are larger than 8.5” x 11”. These patterns must be cut, pieced and taped together.

For this month's blocks, both patterns are larger than 8.5” x 11” and must be taped. The Switz block includes the seam allowance, and the Geo Swirl does not.

Please reference this month’s video tutorial on foundation paper piecing in which I will talk about preparing the patterns.

Tips for Paper Piecing


Here are some tips to keep in mind as you paper piece. These may not totally sink in until you start practicing.

  • As said above, if you are using a temporary foundation, you will need to lower your stitch length to about 1.5. This will make it MUCH easier to pull your paper off without stressing the stitches.
  • For beginners, I always say the bigger the scrap the better! When I first started paper piecing, I was always worried about wasting my fabric. I quickly learned that if you don’t use a large enough piece of fabric, you will sew the fabric down, flip it over and realize it doesn’t cover the entire shape. This is completely normal to do when you first start paper piecing, and I can guarantee you will do it from time to time. Be generous with your pieces, and you shouldn’t have a problem.
  • Use a new sharp needle! Paper piecing can make a needle dull and cause rippling in your fabric. A new sharp needle will work much better.
  • Trim your seam allowance after you sew every piece. Sometimes you feel lazy, and you may sew a section and, then move onto the next section without trimming your seam allowance. When the block is complete and you rip the paper off, you will have an ugly mess on the back of your block. If you truly want to take advantage of the accurate piecing that comes with paper piecing, then trim your seam allowances. One of my favorite tools is the Add a 1/4” Ruler which helps trim perfect ¼” seams.
  • When trimming your seams make sure all of your fabric is folded back and out of the way! Now this is one of those tips you may not completely understand until you do it yourself, but it is very easy to accidentally trim off your “good” piece.
  • Backstitch all seams that end in the seam allowance on the outside of the template. If you do not backstitch, then the stitches can easily pull out when you ripoff your paper.  However, it is not necessary to backstitch on seams inside the template.

Video Lesson on Paper Piecing

Somehow I manage to always end up with super LONG videos. Someday I may master the video tutorial thing; in the meantime please forgive me!

The Lesson Download

Download Block Lesson #5 by clicking on the PDF button below. If you have any questions about the blocks, or see any errors, please stop by the flickr group or email me.


*UPDATE - The Geo Swirl Template was not printing for some participants if you experience this problem as well please try printing these files instead…Geo Swirl (page 1page 2page 3page 4) and if that does not work please email me your mailing address to requesting the pattern and I will mail you the printed version.

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Alyssa Williams

Alyssa Williams

Creator of Pile O' Fabric

Alyssa Lichner is a graphic designer turned avid sewist. She writes modern quilting tutorials and shares techniques and inspiration on her blog, Pile O’ Fabric. Alyssa has a passion for exploring different techniques and applying them to modern designs. She is thankful to have the opportunity to share these techniques, through her tutorials, patterns, and classes with quilters around the world. She always encourages her readers and students to challenge themselves to try new things and to approach quilting with a fearless attitude.