Anatomy of a Paper-Piecing Template

Author and quilter Elizabeth Dackson of Don’t Call Me Betsy has some serious game when it comes to foundation paper-piecing. However, it wasn’t all fun and games when she was just starting out. As she explains in her book The Quilter’s Paper-Piecing Workbook, she made the same mistakes while paper-piecing about 100 times before it clicked.

She writes, “If you’ve tried foundation paper-piecing before and had a tough time, don’t give up. It will click with the right instructions, I promise! Paper-piecing can take a lot of practice, but will get easier each time.” Her book really does make learning the technique a breeze with her patience and approachable style.

Take a peek inside the pages of The Quilter’s Paper-Piecing Workbook and see what we mean…


Templates are the essential roadmap to paper-piecing a block. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to create the ultra-precise points that are the hallmarks of paper-pieced blocks. Templates tell us many different things. Although designers mark up their templates a bit differently, there are several common things you’ll see on most paper-piecing templates.

Refer to the Goosed template from The Quilter’s Paper-Piecing Workbook in figure 1 as we walk through the parts of a template.

Anatomy of a paper-piecing template


This line shows you where your templates will come together in the finished block. When cutting your template out to sew fabric to it, do not cut along this line. Instead, trim approximately 1/2″ outside this line.

This line is primarily a guideline for final template trimming. Once you’ve sewn your fabrics in place on the template, align a rotary cutting ruler to measure an exact 1/4″ from the seam line and trim the excess fabric and foundation paper away with a rotary cutter.


This faint gray line sits 1/4″ outside the dark black outer seam line. I use this line as a reminder more than anything else. It’s more accurate to align the ruler with the seam line than with this line. If there is an issue with the scale of the printing—if the printer has not printed the template at its proper 100% scale—the distance between the lines will not be exactly 1/4″. If you’re trimming the blocks with scissors, check the accuracy of the seam allowance and then use the trim line to guide your cuts.

Illustration of a paper-pieced template

The dashed line on the illustration above shows stitching along the Interior Seam Line.


The dark black lines between each section of the template are the interior seam lines, which are the lines you will sew your fabric on. When sewing, the lines on the printed side of the template will always face you. You will also line up your fabric using these lines; however, you’ll do that with the fabrics held against the unprinted side of the template.


Most paper-piecing pattern designers label their templates with placement indicators to show the order in which you place your printed side up fabric pieces. The placement indicators usually are numerical, but may contain a letter as well. The letter indicates the template and the number indicates the order of fabric placement. It’s easy to understand that for the A template, the first piece is marked as A1.

This diagram points out the trim line on a paper piecing template

When cutting along the trim line, be sure you’re lining your ruler up ¼” from the outer seam line.

Once you’re familiar with all the markings on a foundation paper-piecing template, you’re ready to start the steps to sewing your first block. Elizabeth has a few “Golden Rules” to keep in mind when you do.


1. Fabric goes on the unprinted side of the paper at all times. If you place your fabric on the printed side of the paper, you won’t be able to see the seam lines.

2. The very first piece of fabric is the only piece of fabric you’ll place right side up on the unprinted side of the paper. Every subsequent piece of fabric is placed wrong side down, that is to say, right sides together with that first piece of fabric.

3. Only sew on the printed side of the paper.

4.  Make sure to shorten your stitch length to perforate the paper. Use a stitch length of between 1.2 and 1.5 mm (16 to 18 stitches per inch). You don’t want the paper to fall apart as you’re sewing, but you want to be able to remove the foundation paper easily.

5. Don’t fret about positioning your raw edges a perfect 1/4″ (6 mm) from the seam line. Trim any excess after you sew the fabric in place.

6. When you line up your fabric, make sure to place your fabric on top of the fabrics you’ve just sewn into place, not over the part of the template you want your fabric to cover. Remember that the fabric will be flipped into position after it’s sewn.

Inspiring quilts made with paper-pieced patterns from The Quilters Paper-Piecing Workbook

Find 18 inspiring patterns in The Quilter’s Paper-Piecing Workbook.

For more fantastic foundation paper-piecing instructions like this and inspiring patterns, download or order your copy of The Quilter’s Paper-Piecing Workbook. You won’t be sorry you did! It’s packed with countless tips and 18 beautiful projects for all skill levels.

-Kerry Bogert
Editorial Director, Books

Build your foundation paper-piecing know-how with The Quilter’s Paper-Piecing Workbook!

Comments (2)

  • Helen H

    I believe instruction #2 is incorrect. If you place the fabric wrong side down it is right side up and cannot be right sides together.

    May 3, 2018 at 4:20 am
    • Kerry B

      Hey Helen,
      Thanks so much for your comment. It’s only the first piece that you place wrong side down on the template. All subsequent pieces are placed right side down. Which means, after pressing each seam open, your pieces are always rights sides together.

      May 7, 2018 at 7:15 pm

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