Foundation Piecing: A How-To Guide

Firstly, let me start off by saying that anyone can foundation piece. I once heard it referred to as the colour by numbers of the quilting world and that is so true!

It feels a bit upside and back to front to start with, but take your time and once you get used to it, a whole new world of sewing will open up to you. No matter what the end pattern looks like, the process is always the same! Don’t be intimidated, it is just sewing in straight lines, you CAN do it!!

The pattern used for this tutorial is the Skill challenge block that accompanies the August Modern Quilters Box:



So let’s get started! I’ve written this tutorial for a complete beginner with approximately 57,000 photos so I hope that it is completely clear and explains exactly how it should look at each stage.


The Foundation pieced pattern:

Foundation pieced patterns will always be made using straight lines and will be numbered:


Sometimes a pattern will have multiple sections that you complete separately and then join together using a normal, ¼” seam allowance. If this is the case the parts will be labelled A1, A2 etc and the next section B1, B2 etc and so on depending on the number of sections.

Pattern pieces include a seam allowance of ¼”, this is the outer (fainter) line.


Tips when sewing a foundation pattern:

  • When paper piecing, you sew with the printed pattern facing up and fabric underneath the paper.
  • Fabrics are sewn right side together.
  • Make sure that each piece of fabric has at least ¼” all the way round when folded back and finished (we will go through this in a minute).
  • Reduce your stitch length. I usually use a stitch length of about 1.3, this helps keep your stitches safe when pulling the papers out later!
  • Start and finish your line of stitching a little over the line, to help keep your stitching in place. 
  • When you flip the fabric and pattern over be careful not to accidentally fold fabrics and catch them in the seam or let fabrics slip off the line where you positioned them.
  • Leave papers in place until you have finished your whole block.


The step by step tutorial:

When foundation piecing, you sew the lines one at a time, working up numerically. So the first line to sew is the one between A1 and A2 Highlighted below:


Turn the pattern over and line up your A1 piece of fabric (right side up) over the A1 segment, making sure the fabric is at least ¼” over all the lines of the A1 segment (tip: it might be helpful for this first piece to use a little glue to stop the fabric from shifting once lined up.):

Then lay you A2 piece, right sides together, over the top of the first piece. You want to line it up so that it is ¼” over the line you are about to sew.


You also want to make sure that once you have sewn the line and fold piece A2 open, that it covers the A2 segment fully with ¼” seam around the edges. You can do this by pinning in place in the seam allowance and flipping A2 open to check coverage.

Pin/hold fabrics in place, flip over so the printed pattern is facing up and sew along the first line.

Press the fabrics open (checking coverage!)

Now you move on to sew the next line (between A2 and A3):


To help you see where the line is when you are positioning fabrics, you can bend the pattern at the line which will create a crease in the fabric, you can then use this as your guide when lining up:

Once again, place fabrics right side together so that the new piece has it's ¼” seam allowance over the creased line. Flip over so the printed pattern is facing up and sew in place:


Trim any excess fabric on the seam. However, if using a ruler and rotary cutter, make sure you fold the paper template back so as not to cut it. Press the the new fabric piece open and keep going. This pattern only has 3 segments, but the principal is the same for all foundation piecing patterns. Sew a line, check coverage, press, trim the seam and then move on to the next piece....

Finishing your foundation block:

When you have sewn all of your pieces in a block and have given it a press you will need to trim all the excess away.

Most patterns will have a dashed or lighter line ¼” from the outside of the pattern. This is the seam allowance and trim line.





If you have multiple pieces to join to create a finished block, you will need to pair up correctly (normally sew A to B etc.) you can also just check any points match up, pin and sew along the thick black line.





Ta dah…


This pattern needs 4 of these, sew them together…



Yey! If you’ve made it this far, congratulations!!!!

I hope that this helps and encourages others to foundation piece. It’s a fantastic and fun technique!


Written by Lou Orth (@i'mstudiolou) for the Modern Quilter's Box.



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