Foundation Piecing: Precision for the Non-Piecer

I am trying to put together a large section of Storm-at-Sea blocks to become the large wave that merges into the pictorial part of the stormy ocean for my current quilt, the second in my “Waiting…” series.

As you probably know, I am NOT a piecer type quilter.   I do sometimes piece even for my show quilts, as I am right now, but it usually is not such an involved block.  This block has 65 pieces that make up the 7 inch block.  All the points and joins have to be precisely matched to be acceptable for a show quilt.  So I am foundation piecing this section, which I estimate needs to be six blocks wide by 4 blocks long to be large enough to cut the wave from.  I am certain I could not do this with the precision required if someone had not invented sew and flip paper piecing.  I have learned several things over the years that help me overcome my lack of the precision piecing gene as I work through this process. 😀

  • Setting up my sewing station and pre-cut pieces with care can save a lot of time.
My setup for foundation piecing

My setup for foundation piecing

  • Using a light weight, see-through foundation paper, such as Electric Quilt 7 Foundation printable paper, can make a difference in  how precise I can get the blocks.
  • Printing out a full-size picture of the quilt block and keeping it nearby can help you with the placement of the different fabrics.  Of course, after the first couple of blocks, you can use them as your reminder.
  • Having an iron station nearby can save time, especially since I have found actually ironing the seams very flat can make a difference in my precision.
Small ironing station with my travel iron is within reach as I sit down at my machine.

Small ironing station with my travel iron is within reach as I sit down at my machine.

  • Using a very good ruler and actually taking the time to cut the seams one quarter inch helps with the precision.  I figure every thing contributes to a precision pieced block…even the little things like the bulk of the seam.
  • Carefully holding the rotary cutter perpendicular to the cutting board and snug against the ruler makes a big difference in the precision, especially when cutting away the extra fabric in the final step that squares up each segment.
  • Cutting a good set of precut pieces that are somewhat bigger than you really need for each piece helps with the flip and sew upside-down-ness of foundation piecing and you can get in a rhythm and save a lot of time.
  • Using vision aids, such as the magnifier on my machine, helps with precision.
  • Glueing the first center piece of a segment down holds it in place.  I use Elmer’s washable stick glue for that.
  • Being willing to either throw away a segment and start over, or unsew a piece and resew it is essential for precision piecing.  No one is perfect…well, unless it is Sally Collins, Janet Stone, or Sherry Reynolds, or some such celebrity quilter…LOL
  • Music or audible books are essential while piecing.
  • Taking frequent five or ten minute breaks helps.

Here are the first two blocks I made so far.

first two blocks

I am well into the third.  The first one took me about 18 or 20 hours.  The second one took me about 4 1/2 hours.  If I recall, when I did this last time, I got to where I could make two blocks in a six-hour day by the time I was done.  So stick-to-it-tivity is a must if I hope to get this quilt section completed in a reasonable time.

Sew happy everyone!  Try a little foundation piecing if you, like me, are not a precision piecer but need some precision piecing done to realize your vision for your quilt.  Just bite the bullet and sit down and enjoy the music.


6 thoughts on “Foundation Piecing: Precision for the Non-Piecer

  1. Terrie says:

    I cannot imagine taking 18 hours to make one block. Good grief!

    I guess that’s why I never intend to enter my quilts in big shows – just local stuff (maybe)
    Surely tells something of your character! Good for you!

    • Well, really Terrie, I was making all KINDS of mistakes in that first block, and some of the segments I had to make about four times. By the second block I was more organized and had remembered some of the things I had learned when I made this the first time. Believe me, if I had not been able to speed up on this it would have been to move on to plan B, which was to leave out the pieced blocks and make the quilt entirely pictorial. Cheers.

  2. Luann says:

    Your blocks are looking terrific. I have always toyed with the idea of a ‘storm at sea’ quilt. Since I’ve been getting so many things done lately, maybe I could just plan a four block wall hanging. Did you use your EQ Program to get an idea of color placement and how much fabric you would need? I have the program but haven’t been using it lately. I need to get that back on my radar!!
    Best of luck in the show, your seams are matching well!

    • Luann, Hi! Yes, I used EQ7. I did a notecard search for “Storm at Sea” and there are several blocks there. I picked the most complex one and played with it in a simple horizontal block quilt layout until I got it looking like I wanted. It’s amazing how much movement you can get out of this block.

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