How I Do Freezer Paper Piecing

I love the effects I can achieve with paper piecing, but I’m not so wild about removing the paper afterwards.  So I was happy to learn the ripless paper piecing technique. It uses the adhesive properties of  freezer paper and folding of the paper along the pattern lines to avoid actually stitching on the paper.

With this method you don’t have to use small stitches or rip out paper, and the freezer paper is easily peeled off and repositioned, if needed.  I’ve found I can adapt many paper piecing patterns for this technique, as long as the piecing begins on an outer edge rather than the middle of the block.   It won’t work for blocks like the pineapple, but it’s great for flying geese.

Here’s a picture of the finished block I’m using for this tutorial.  It’s made up of four partial blocks and is adapted from Circle of Geese on piecebynumber.com.  It seems to be a favorite of modern quilters, probably because it makes up well in solids.

If you’d like to try this method, here are the supplies you’ll need in addition to the usual sewing machine, iron, rotary cutter, thread, etc.

  • Freezer paper – usually available in the grocery store aisle with plastic wrap and aluminum foil.  The shiny side is what sticks when heated with an iron.
  • Old sewing machine needle – I tape one to the side of my sewing machine so it’s handy.
  • Rotary cutter and acrylic ruler with clearly marked quarter inch line. You can buy an Add-A-Quarter ruler (I recommend the 6 inch size) which has a lip that helps keep the ruler in place as you cut, but it isn’t essential.
  • At least two fabrics that aren’t strongly directional – no plaids, stripes, etc – or big, multi-colored prints.  However, for the circle of geese pattern these types of fabric can work for the geese if you’re careful to fussy cut.  Yarn dyed solids and batiks are great for paper piecing because you won’t get right and wrong sides confused. Allow for more fabric than you think you’ll need as there’s some wastage in this and other paper piecing methods.  I’ve found my scraps often aren’t large enough to use.
  • Pattern – if you don’t use to use the Circle of Geese, there are lots of books with paper piecing patterns (Carol Doak, Peggy Martin) as well as online sources.  You’ll need to copy or print off at least 2 copies of the pattern – one for your master and one as your perforation guide.

To begin, cut your freezer paper into squares (or whatever the shape of your block is) large enough to contain your whole pattern.  You’ll be able to use each freezer paper piece several times, so your number of freezer paper pieces will depend on how many blocks you want to make.

Take one of your pattern copies and put it on top of a pile (up to 6) of freezer paper pieces with the shiny side up.  Staple the pile together at the top and bottom edges.

Unthread your sewing machine and install your old needle.  You’ll be stitching on the black lines of the pattern to perforate each piece of freezer paper. When you’re done, remove the staples and trim the freezer paper to the outer black line.

Now, figure out what fabric you want to use where.  I mark the colors on my master pattern so I know what color goes next.

Then I number the pieces on each perforated freezer paper pattern on the dull side and write the color names in, too.  If you like, you can crease your paper along the perforated lines and then unfold it just to get it ready for the next few steps.  If you do this, fold it so the shiny side is on the outside.  I also cut apart one of the freezer paper perforated blocks and use the pieces as templates for rough cutting my fabric.

I allow about a half inch on each side of my fabric pieces when I cut them out.  You can stack your fabric to cut several pieces at once, but be sure all fabric in the stack is facing the same way – all wrong side up – especially if your pattern pieces aren’t symmetrical.  Otherwise, you’ll get reversed pieces that won’t cover sharp angles.  Ask me how I know.

So, your machine is threaded and set on a normal stitch length, your iron is set to hot/no steam, and you’re ready to begin.

Put your fabric piece 1 in back of your perforated freezer paper pattern with the wrong side of the fabric touching the shiny side of the paper, roughly lining up the fabric’s edges with the corresponding outline of piece 1 on your paper. You should have at least a quarter inch overlap on all sides.   Iron on the dull side of the freezer paper until it sticks to the fabric – a few seconds. Do not iron on the shiny side unless you want the paper stuck to your iron. The picture shows the back of the paper with piece 1 ironed on.

Take the block to your cutting board and fold back the freezer paper on the perforated line between piece 1 and 2. The shiny side of the freezer paper will be on top.  Cut the fabric a quarter of an inch away from the fold line.  Now take fabric piece 2 and match its right side to the right side of piece 1, lining up the appropriate edges.

Then, turn the fabric and paper over so the fabric is under the paper and go to your sewing machine.  Sew the two pieces together as close to the folded paper as you can without sewing into it.  With a new piece of freezer paper I find it helpful to tuck a strip of regular paper under my presser foot so the tackiness of the shiny side of the freezer paper doesn’t impede the stitching.  Then unfold the paper and dry iron the second piece to the freezer paper, being careful there isn’t a fabric bump at the sewing line.  The fabric seems to stick better if you iron from the non-shiny side of the paper than from the fabric side.

Fold back the freezer paper on the perforated line between piece 2 and the next to be added piece, cut any excess fabric a quarter inch away from the fold, match the right side of piece 3 against the right side of the previous pieces, aligning edges.  Then sew as close as possible to the fold line and iron piece 3 to the unfolded block.  Keep doing this until you’ve sewn on all the pieces.  Your block will look something like the one below.  It’s important to make sure you cover the outer quarter inch seam allowance built into the pattern.  Trim the block to the edge of the freezer paper pattern all around and slowly peel off the freezer paper.

Then admire your block.  I’ve reused freezer paper patterns 8 times without a problem.  Just keep using them until they won’t stick to the fabric when ironed.  To complete the circle of geese make 3 more blocks.  You’ll get faster at this with each block you make.  Here’s another freezer paper piecing tutorial with lots of pictures.  It has you print the pattern on freezer paper using your printer, but otherwise it’s similar.

And of course you can add applique and other frou-frous to your block.  I decided the colors in the block below reminded me of daisies so I plopped a flower in the middle.  You could also change the colors of some of the background pieces, maybe make the outer background pieces a different color than the inner ones.  Try working out alternate color schemes on drafting paper with colored pencils or go high tech with quilt design software.

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