Sewing: piecing by numbers

I’m a great believer in prototyping. You can’t make a good “something” until you’ve made a bad ‘something’ or two, or six. Quality comes from practice and learning from mistakes, not from perfection every time. So it proves with a new skill I’m learning called piecing by numbers or paper piecing. The basic process is simple. You print a design onto a sheet of paper, and then you calculate the order in which various pieces of fabric have to be attached in order to make that design. 1-2-3-4-5, up to hundreds of pieces of fabric, the design emerges a little bit at a time from the method. You can see that the four points of this star are quite precise within each block, although I need to work on how I attach the blocks to one another (and how I trim them, etc.)

But if we examine how I assembled the pieces, you can see that the central diamond of each piece is the ‘bottom-most’ layer. All the other pieces are built up on top of that. We can work backwards, 5-4-3-2-1. The piece of gray fabric marked 5 is on top of 4, 1, and 2, so it must have been attached last. The piece of gray fabric marked 4 is on top of 1 and 3, but under 5 — it must have come just before. The piece marked 3 is on top of both 2 and 1, but under 4. The piece marked 2 is only on top of 1, but under 5 and 3. The piece marked 1, underneath everything, obviously came first.

More complex the patterns require more layers of fabric to go into building up the design, the more likely it is that you want to print the block design on something flimsy, like “tea bag paper” or “tissue” that you can rip away once the design process is done. You wouldn’t want the extra layer of muslin remaining stuck in the design (as it is here). However, if your goal is serious, specific points and really precise designs, then working out your design based on piecing by numbers or paper piecing is clearly the way to go.

Then you just need to get the blocks lined up properly… or be prepared to use your seam ripper quite a lot.

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