Paperless Paper Pieceing + Celestial Star QAL

July 26, 2014 2 Comments

Hi! I'm really excited to be Diane's guest and to share Paperless Paper Piecing with you. It's one of my favorite techniques. I hope you'll give it a try!

I love the precision of traditional paper piecing, but like some of you, I really don't enjoy tearing off all of the papers at the end. Over 10 years ago, my mom, Sharon Schamber, developed Paperless Paper Piecing, an amazing technique that gives you the precision of paper piecing with the freedom's limited by foundations. And the best part is that there are no papers to tear off in the end. Paperless Paper Piecing can be used as an alternative to paper piecing with virtually any pattern. I use it whenever I have the chance.

If you're not familiar with Paperless Paper Piecing, don't worry! I'll walk you through it, step by step, and I have another great post that walks you through the basics. In Paperless Paper Piecing, the assembly of the block, or unit, is done in a similar layering fashion as paper piecing, but, instead of sewing one piece at a time, all of the pieces are layered and glue basted in place, then sewn together. It's amazing and wonderful! I know this information may seem very extensive, but very detailed instructions are important to me. I don't want to skip a single step. The technique is simple, but as with anything new, it takes giving it a try to really "get it". Are you ready? Let's get started.

Preparing for Paperless Paper Piecing:
Let's get our supplies together. You'll need:
  1. Fabric cutting templates from Diane's Celestial Star pattern.
  2. Templates of the block units for piecing: Center-Inner, Center-Outer, Left of Center-Outer, Right of Center-Outer
    1. You'll only need 2 copies of each, which is much different than with paper piecing. Print one copy of each on paper, and one copy onto freezer paper. (Additional copies are optional.)
  3. Your coloring page of your design plan
  4. Fabrics
  5. Washable Elmer's School Glue & Fine Tip
  6. Scissors, Rotary Cutter, Rotary Ruler
  7. Pencil, Fine Sharpie
  8. Spray Starch (not Sizing, or non-starch products, like Flatter), 1/2" stencil brush or dense paint brush
Preparing the Templates:
I printed, and rough cut, one each of the inner and outer piecing templates onto regular paper. You can do this on freezer paper as well. If you choose to use freezer paper, print enough so you have 2 copies of each type of template. You will not need 12 of each, as with paper piecing.

The cutting templates can be cut in any fashion you prefer. Paperless Paper Piecing is very forgiving, and doesn't require extremely precise fabric pieces. Although, I like templates, because they cut down on waste. Take a look at Diane's method; it is wonderful. The only difference for cutting the fabrics for PPP is to cut with the wrong side of the fabric facing up. This is most important if you are using prints and/or cutting rights and lefts.

Be sure to have your design plan handy, and your fabrics ready to go. Prior to cutting my fabric with my templates, I prefer to iron them with a light spraying of starch. I love how well starched fabric pieces together. (I'm not going to walk you through cutting the fabrics, because Diane's post covers it perfectly. Just make sure to cut the fabrics with the wrong side up.)

Converting to Paperless Paper Piecing:

Most of the Paperless Paper Piecing patterns I make are made for the technique, but almost any paper piecing pattern can be converted to Paperless Paper Piecing (I'll often refer to it as PPP in this post, too).

Diane's Celestial Star converts flawlessly to PPP. I'll walk you through how to convert the pattern. And please feel free to use my conversions. There's no need for you to reinvent the wheel ;).

PPP patterns are layered, glue basted and assembled BEFORE sewing. This is unique, but so crazy awesome. Since we won't be layering two pieces, then sewing, then trimming, then layering..., we have to change to order of the paper piecing template a bit.

First, we decide on our layering order. Generally, the PPP layering order for the fabrics is done in the opposite order of paper piecing. This is because we will be layering and assembling our units with the wrong side up. Essentially we are making the mirror image. You can see the edits I made to the Inner template in red, in the picture below. An essential component to PPP is turning the edges of our fabrics to create a seam line. If I've already lost you, please refer back to my previous post on PPP.

Cristy's Conversions:

  1. Reverse the farbic layering/placement order.
  2. Mark the turning lines (dashes) for each piece. 
    1. Piece 1: top edge, touching pieces 2, & 3, is turned
    2. Piece 2: the side edge, touching piece 4, is turned
    3. Piece 3: the side edge, touching piece 4, is turned
    4. Piece 4: no edges are turned, as it will lay on top of all the pieces
  3. Mark the sewing order. The sewing order is essentially the reverse order of the layering. I wrote the sewing order on the lines that indicate the seam. In most cases, the sewing order is almost the same as with paper piecing.
    1. Seam 1 joins pieces 3 & 4 (I marked #1 between 4 & 2 on this template, by mistake. This pattern is symmetrical, so my mistake isn't a huge deal. If it weren't symmetrical, I would be sure to fix it.)
    2. Seam 2 joins pieces 2 & 4.
    3. Seam 3 joins pieces 1, 2, 3 & 4
  4. Knowing your sewing order is very important. If you were to sew seam 3 first, you would sew over the ends of seams 1 & 2 before they were sewn, and have to do some unpicking. If you were to mistakenly sew the wrong seam first, it's okay. You can unpick it, and sew the proper one. With everything being glue basted, all of your pieces will stay in place.
  5. The conversions are the same for all 12 of the inner pieces.

Here is a picture of the conversions for the outer piece. Whether you're making the center, right of center or left of center, the conversions are the same.

Prepare the Turning Template:

We will need to make a template from freezer paper to help us turn the edges of our fabric pieces. If you've used freezer paper for appliqué, or other sewing uses before, this will probably be pretty self explanatory. We will be making the template out of two layers of freezer paper, for durability and reuse-ability.

  1. Cut two strips of freezer paper.
  2. Press them together with the shiny sides DOWN. 
  3. Trim one edge to get a nice straight edge.
  4. Draw a dashed line (or any other doodle you'd like) to remind you that it's the straight edge. Or cute both edges straight, giving you a double edged template.

The Paperless Paper Piecing Technique:
Layering and Glue Basting:

Now the fun begins!!!

Turn your iron on (cotton setting is perfect) and keep it dry (no steam, please). Have your spray starch, stencil brush and Elmer's Washable School Glue + Fine Tip at the ready.

Spray some starch into a small bowl or in the lid of the starch bottle, like I did here. It will foam up. After the foam settles, it will be liquidy.

Next we'll be turning the edges of our fabric pieces, according to the conversions we made on the templates.

Starting with piece #1, have your freezer paper turning template, starch and stencil brush nearby.

Place the freezer paper, shiny side down, onto the BACK of piece #1. Line up the straight edge about 1/4"-3/8" from the edge of piece #1. Press it in place with your hot, dry iron.

 Dip your brush into the starch.

Paint starch onto the edge of the fabric, from one end to the other. Be careful not to paint too much onto the freezer paper template, as we don't want soggy paper.

Next, pull the edge of the fabric over the edge of the freezer paper, and press with your hot, dry iron. This will make a nice, crisp crease. This crease will end up being your seam line. Then peel the template off, while it's still a tad warm. So cool!!

Repeat for each piece with a turned edge.

Here you can see all of the turned edges, nicely pressed. Remember, wrong side up! In these pictures, you can see how the turned edges of pieces 1, 2 & 3 match what we wrote on the template. Piece #4 doesn't get turned because it's last and will lay on top of all the pieces.

Now, let's get to the layering!

Lay piece #1 in it's place on your layout template, and anchor with a couple of straight pins. When laying it in place, the edge of the crease should be right on top of corresponding black line. The black line can peek out a tiny bit. If it's completely covered, or not covered at all, the actual seam will be inaccurate.  The outside edges of each piece should overlap the seam allowance edge, just like with paper piecing. (Here, I'm layering them on another template to show you how the layering is done, without covering up the converted template. Usually, I layer right on top of the conversions.)

 Draw a line of glue near the edge of the crease, where you'll be layering piece #2. This is the beginning of our use of glue basting. Glue basting is an amazing tool that helps us hold our pieces of fabric together, temporarily, while enabling us to achieve more accurate piecing. When you wash the final quilt, the glue will wash away. I have several blog posts and videos can teach you more about glue basting.

Heat set in place.

Draw a line of glue for piece #3.

Place piece #3 in place and heat-set.

Draw a line of glue on the edges of pieces 2 & 3.

Lay  piece #4 in place and heat set. The last piece is always my favorite!

Here's what it looks like after all the pieces are layered and glue basted.

Take the pins out and turn the unit over for the big reveal. Doesn't it look lovely?! Now it's ready to sew.

Speedy Shortcuts:

  1. Use mulitple layout templates, and assemble your units in an assembly line.
  2. Turn all edges before layering.
  3. Use a longer turning template and turn two pieces as the same time.

 Let's take a look at the assembly for one of the outer units:

Piece #1 is already on the template, as it's done the same way as piece #1 of the inner unit. I turned pieces #2 & #3 at the same time, on a longer turning template. This makes turning edges much quicker. Then I placed them on the layout template.

After turning piece #4, draw a small spot of glue on the edge of piece #2, where it will overlap. Then lay it in place and heat-set. Feel free to use an additional pin as an anchor.

Draw a spot of glue on the edge of pieces #3 & #4, where piece #5 will overlap.

Lay piece #5 in place and heat-set.

Draw glue on the edges of pieces #2 & #3, where piece #6 will overlap. Lay piece #6 in place and heat-set.

And last, but not least, draw a line of glue on the edges of pieces #4 & #5, where piece #7 will over lap. Place piece #7 in place and heat-set.

Release the unit from the layout template, and take a peek at how lovely and precise it is.

Sewing and Trimming the Units:

Open the crease for sewing line #1 on the inner unit. See that nice crease there? That's your sewing line, where you will be creating your seam. For each seam, you will sew right on the crease.

Beginning with your needle down, at the top of the seam, begin sewing directly on the crease. If you sew to the right of the crease, it will be too big. If you sew to the left, it will be too small.

See this little bump? That's where the seams of the other pieces are. When you get to this point, be sure to stay on the crease line, and be sure not to sew on top of the bump. Doing that will create a pucker. I've done this many many times. It's an easy fix. Just unpick that section of the seam and resew it. Having everything glue basted keeps your pieces in place when you need to fix little mistakes like a pucker.

Trim the seam to a nice 1/4". You can trim with scissors or a rotary. I generally use scissors and "eyeball" the 1/4" because it's a bit quicker for me.

After trimming, press the seam. Repeat, for each seam, one seam at a time. It's very important that you trim each seam before sewing the next, just as with paper piecing. 
Want to chain piece? Paperless Paper Piecing is perfect for chain piecing! After assembling each unit, you can chain piece each of the first seams, press, trim, then move on to the second seam. 

 Here are two inner units, sewn and trimmed.

And two outer units, sewn and trimmed.

Trimming the Units:

Trimming the units, to prepare them for the final assembly, is unique, easy and accurate.

First, print one copy of each piecing/layout template onto freezer paper. Remember, print onto the paper side. Here you can see the shiny side vs. the paper side. I highly recommend printing with an inkjet printer. If you print with a laser printer, the ink will smear when you press it with your iron.

Rough cut one of each inner, and outer templates. Lay each template, shiny side down onto a piece of blank freezer paper. Again, we'll be making a template with 2 layers of freezer paper. Press the templates in place. Be sure there are little to no bubbles.

Trim each template, cutting off the seam allowance. When you trim, cut right down the center of the black line. If you cut to the right, the template will be too big. If you cut to the right, it will be too small. This is a good rule of thumb for cutting any template for any type of use in quiting.

Trimming templates, all trimmed and ready to go!

Line up the black lines/seam lines of the trimming template with the actual seams of the unit. Press the template in place with your hot, dry iron.

Line up the edge of the trimming template with the 1/4" mark on your ruler. Trim with your rotary cutter. Repeat for each edge, and for each unit.

Next, mark at dot at the tip of the template. This indicates the stopping/starting point for sewing two, or more, full units together.

After trimming and marking the point, simply peel the trimming template off of the unit. Easy peasy! And the template is reusable!

Troubleshooting: If your seam lines don't match the template perfectly, get it as close as you can. Hold the template with your hand, and give the sewn unit a gentle tug to guide it into place. When you've got it as close as you can, press it in place. I think the most important line to match up is the one that intersects the other pieces.

Repeat for each inner and outer unit.

Joining the Inner & Outer Units:
Now, you're inner and outer units are ready to be joined. This is one of the easiest parts of the technique.

Draw a line of glue across the edge of the outer unit, clost to the edge (about 1/8" from the edge).

Center and line up the edges of the inner and outer unit. Heat-set in place.

Sew together.

Repeat for all units. (Yep, you can see where I messed up a seam, and had to restitch. Thankfully, I only made the seam to short. Making it wider was easy, and I didn't have to unpick anything.)

After sewing, press the seam toward piece #1 of the inner unit. Repeat to join each inner/outer unit according to your design plan.

Finally, you're ready to join full units to one another.

Draw a line of glue along the edge of one fully assembled unit. Again, about 1/8" away from the edge. Avoid putting glue past the point of that dot we drew at the tips, earlier. Remember, we aren't actually sewing through the glue. It's just holding our pieces together in order to help us achieve more accurate piecing. And when you wash the final quilt, the glue will wash away.

Match up the seams of your units, and heat set.

Sew your units together, starting at the dot we marked at the tip of the unit. Start with your needle down, right on the dot. Stitch 2-3 stitches then backstitch. This will secure the end, which will eventually become the center of the block, where all the seams intersect.

The backstitch.

This is what it will look like at the tip, after being sewn.

After sewing, press your seam to the side. I always recommend pressing to the side, especially when a seam is the strength of the block and quilt, as with these units of the Celestial Star. When you press your seams open, the strength of the block is only as strong as the thread holding it together. A seam that 's pressed open runs a high risk of popping once it's quilted or with washing, use and over time. A seam that's pressed to the side is easier to quilt, especially if you choose to "stitch in the ditch", and it's much stronger as it relies on the fabric AND the thread for its strength. (Miters and binding strips are two places where I do press my seams open. Otherwise, pressing to the side is my preference.)

Continue piecing the units together, according to Diane's instructions. At each tip of a unit, be sure to stop and backstitch at that dot we drew. Then, press to the side, in the same direction, each time.

When you have the two halves, of 6 units each, ready to sew together, sew straight across, without stopping at any dot. This will join the units, and allow the center seams to "spin", which relieves any bulk in the center of your block. If you were to press all of these seams open, you could end up with quilt a bit of bluk in the center, and the center may not match up as nicely.
This is the Celestial Star block I made, using Paperless Paper Piecing.

This is the center, after joining all units, pressing to the side, and spinning the center.

Thank you for joining me today! I hope you learned a bit in this post, and consider giving Paperless Paper Piecing a try, with this pattern or with any other paper piecing pattern. 
I really love Diane's Celestial Star, and can't wait to make many more. I also can't wait to see what you create. 
Happy Stitchin'!

2 Responses


August 01, 2014

Your new site is awesome congratulations. Sounds like you have a busy schedule


July 28, 2014

I love this! I am so hoping to get into your extra class on this technique at Quilt Con. Since following you on Instagram I have become a convert to glue basting and am keen to add PPP to my bag of tricks!

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