Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Ups and Downs of Paper Piecing a TARDIS

I've been wanting to talk about the ups and downs of my very first attempt at foundation piecing a quilt block. The pattern I chose to start with was the TARDIS pattern from Trillium Designs.

This seemed like a good pattern to start with, because even though it was far beyond my skill level, it was something I really wanted to make, therefore I was very motivated to get it right. Starting with projects that are beyond my skill level usually leads to learning a new technique faster than starting small and working my way up. It also opens up a lot of opportunities for personalizing the design through chance and well intentioned incompetence.

Certainly both of those played a role in my TARDIS coming together. Before I get into the process, check out how good the final product looks! (90% sewn by hand while on a trip, with the final components assembled by machine after I got back.)

My biggest gripe with the whole process was the lack of useful information I found online about how to do this. Paper piecing tutorials come in two varieties:

The first are the beginner tutorials which assume you know nothing and explain the process using a pattern so simple that none of the issues that you'll encounter with a complex design ever come up. These focus on a test block that is all one piece, which means they don't address the fact that more advanced designs actually involve piecing together multiple components separately. The TARDIS block is made up of over 80 pieces, split into 19 separate, individually assembled, units.

The second variety are the tutorials for people who have already done quite a bit of paper piecing and are looking to move on to complex designs. These tutorials assume you already know the basics, like at which point you are supposed to rip off the paper so that it doesn't get sewn in at the next step and become stuck inside your block forever. I wasn't aware that some of the seam allowance paper had to be removed before certain key steps, so I left it all attached until the block was done. Some of the paper is now enclosed inside the seams and will be part of the quilt forever.

Most sources also tell you to press the sections/block while the paper is still attached. Nowhere did I see a mention that the heat from pressing will cause the printer ink on the paper to melt and bond to other things! I ended up with black ink fused onto my ironing board cover, the face of my iron, and the fabric of the block. Aaack! It was a mess. Luckily the background is grey so you can't see it unless you look closely.

Aside from the enclosed paper issue and the ink spreading crisis, I did not know which way to press the seams, so that the block doesn't lay flat now that it's finished. I'm pretty confident that will work itself out during the quilting process, though I'm a bit anxious about my machine's ability to quilt through the spots where there are eight layers of fabric and a layer of paper all jumbled together.

If you're in this same boat, I'd like to point you in the direction of the foundation piecing tutorial by Alyssa Lychner from Pile O'Fabric. It's a 40 minute long video that actually does a good job addressing the issues I encountered.

After all of that, you might think I hate paper piecing. But no! There were a lot of positives to this project, and I'm definitely interested in trying again with a slightly simpler design.

One of the things I did appreciate about paper piecing was how intuitive the method was for me. Building and shaping a design outwards from one key piece makes good sense. Having never done this before, I decided to slightly modify the pattern so that the windows would line up better, and it actually worked out perfectly.

This TARDIS block will be featured in my Doctor Who 50th anniversary quilt. Other blocks available so far as part of the Doctor Who quilt along : the Time Lord, the ever lovable K-9, the SS Madame de Pompadour, some cool Bad Wolf graffiti, and the werewolf. I'm not planning to tackle these at the moment, but there are several more block designs to come (all free) and if a slightly simpler one comes along I'll be all over it. In the meantime, I'm catching up on my embroidered Doctors, courtesy of the Fandom in Stitches Doctor Who Stitch Along. Stay tuned for my take on the fourth Doctor!


  1. Wow! 80! I've only done the robin hood blocks and they nearly drove me to the mill! It's lovely, glad you worked through it and thanks for the advice and link!

  2. Looks cool. Thanks for the info on paper piecing.

    I always tend to choose things that are well beyond my skill level, too. I remember going into a sewing and crafts store to ask about batting. They were happy to see that I was interested in quilting, but warned me that if I was just starting out I should start with something small, like a placemat, and then work my way up to baby blankets and then larger quilts. But it was too late. I had already started working on my queen sized quilt, with no previous quilting experience. Yep, definitely above my skill level, which may explain why nearly two years have passed since then, and my quilt is still a work in progress :)

  3. Nice to hear I'm not the only one who approaches new techniques with the 'just jump in over your head' method. :-) I, too, find if a project is too simple (boring), it doesn't hold my interest and I sort of just set it aside and never get back to it.

    This turned out beautifully. I've never tried paper piecing, but have seen my mother turn out some really nice quilts (it's great for funky curved pieces).

  4. Oh no! I'm sorry it was such a pain your first time paper piecing. Your Tardis looks fantastic, though!