Piece By Number

Design Notebook

No More Slipped Pieces

Foundation piecing is easy and fun, but even experienced foundation piecers find that keeping the fabric pieces properly aligned on the underside of the foundation can be a bit tricky at times. Try these simple ways to keep those little pieces of fabric under control:

  • Temporarily hold the first fabric piece to the foundation with a straight pin or a tiny dab of glue stick.
  • Press before you sew - what I think of as "press basting." Place the next piece of fabric to be sewn into position (check alignment by holding the foundation up to a strong light). Then press the newly positioned fabric piece with an iron (cotton setting, NO STEAM!) before sewing. The pressure and heat of the iron makes the cotton fibers "stick" just enough to keep the pieces from slipping when turning the foundation over and during sewing. For me, this one simple step has virtually eliminated those nasty slipped pieces that must be ripped out and resewn.
  • When you use a wooden iron instead of an electric one while FPP'ing, press the foundation and fabric pieces firmly against a table or other hard surface with the palm of your hand - it does work, but it's not quite as effective as a regular iron.
  • Of course you press the seam after you flip a newly-sewn fabric piece open. But pieces (especially large pieces) don't stay put to my satisfaction without pinning them open to the foundation before sewing the next piece. My favorite pins are the very thin Swiss Iris pins - their thinness causes much less of a pinned "bubble" or distortion than other dressmaker pins.

  • "How do you sew multiple units together without slipping when they're still backed with paper?" you ask. "I've placed the two pieces together and carefully aligned the end points of the seam with a pin stabbed through each end, and pinned along the entire edge. But I still have problems getting the seam sewn accurately!"

    First, finish sewing the individual unit properly. After stitching the entire foundation pieced unit (or block), press it well from the wrong side -- lots of pressure, no steam, and no back and forth movement. (Use a press cloth if the iron's heat reacts with the foundation's ink.)

    Stitch around the unit or block about 1/8" into the seam allowance. This holds those edge pieces in place until the unit or block is sewn to other units or blocks. (I use a basting stitch which I unpick when removing the papers; others prefer to use a regular FPP stitch length instead -- choose whichever is easiest for you.) Trim the outside seam allowance to 1/4". Press the unit again from the back to make it as flat as possible.

    Then try the tips below -- you may prefer one method in one situation (such as joining two small half-square triangle units) and maybe a combination of methods for another situation (such as joining two oddly shaped units with lots of seams to sew over).

  • Use plastic-coated paper clips instead of (or in addition to) pins to hold the seam edges in place, removing them as you slowly sew the seam. If you prefer pinning, try switching to the ultra-thin Swiss Iris pins for the smoothest possible pinned edges.
  • In addition to securing the edges of the two units to be sewn, pin them together about 3/4 - 1" below and parallel with the seam line, out of the way of the presser foot (so you don't have to remove them until after the seam is sewn). This helps stabilize things especially when your foundation pieced units are rather large.
  • Hand or machine-baste the seam first. Check your work, and when you're satisfied, resew the seam with your usual FPP stitch length. It's much easier to rip out a bit of basting than 18 stitches to the inch!
  • Sew the seam with your walking foot.
  • Begin sewing in the middle of the seam and sew to the end. Remove the piece from the machine, turn it over and sew the rest of the seam from the middle outwards, overlapping the stitching a bit. This works well for sewing over multiple seam intersections, or securing a critical match point before sewing the rest of the seam.
  • Use tape to hold the pieces in position -- over the top of the seam edge and even around the sides of the pieces so that the whole thing is secure. A tape with a weak adhesive is best, so that no sticky stuff gums up your needle. Try some of that pink hairsetting tape with the pinked edges -- it's great for times you want a bit of hold without glue (even if you never set your hair!).
  • Apply a bit of water-soluble glue stick or basting glue (e.g. Roxanne's) in the seam allowances if you're really having troubles holding things in place, and plan on washing the finished project. The glue vanishes in the wash.

  • Several of these tips are from members of The Foundation Piecer's quiltlist (many thanks to them!). This lively and generous group of quilters enjoys foundation piecing and shares foundation piecing tips, project ideas, and quilting successes (and a few failures!) via email. Like to join in?

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    Page last updated January 19, 2000

    Copyright 1999, 2000 Beth Maddocks (Piece By Number)
    All Rights Reserved
    Permission is given to individuals to use patterns and designs for personal use only.
    For other uses, please contact the author.