Foundation Paper Piecing with Printer Paper

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’re browsing Instagram or Pinterest for quilting projects. You don’t have anything specific in mind and are hoping that something will catch your eye and kickstart your sewing slump. After a few minutes (maybe hours!) a photo stops you scrolling and inspires you to browse your fabric stash and get behind the sewing machine. But after reading the pattern details you realize the quilt is foundation paper pieced. No sweat, you've tried the technique before and you'll have YouTube and Google at your fingertips in case of emergencies!

But in order to start on your new adventure you need to print the pattern pieces…

Maybe you consider purchasing some specialty paper or - if you’re like me - you don’t want to defer your enthusiasm, and decide to use the copy paper already queued up in your home printer. Paper is paper, right? How bad can it be?

This blog post will give you a full rundown of how copy paper performs with foundation paper pieced quilt patterns. We’ll be using a template from my Arcturus Shield pattern, which you can find in PDF or paper formats.

cover of arcturus shield paper pattern by ships and violins

Read on to learn about the pros and cons of printer paper including how it fares with regards to transparency, gluing, sewing, tearing, and more. This in-depth analysis will give you information to help set your expectations when using copy paper and help you decide whether another paper option might suit your quilting practice better.

image of copy paper, arcturus shield quilt pattern and templates on a grey cutting mat.

Can you use printer paper for foundation paper piecing?

Yes, you can use printer paper/copy paper for foundation paper piecing (FPP). The standard copy paper is 90lbs bond and white in colour. I started to use copy paper for FPP soon after I discovered the quilting technique and have used it ever since. There is always a ream of paper in the studio which makes it the most convenient choice when a new pattern is ready for sewing or testing. I've also racked-up a stack of yellow copy paper from my local printer who uses them as visual separations between copies of my printed patterns. Any copy paper with a blank side is fair game in my world.

What are the pros of using printer paper for FPP?

As mentioned above, the convenience of printer paper is by far its best-selling feature. If you don’t have it in stock at home, you can find it at any office supply store. You may even be able to find a recycled version that's more environmentally friendly.

Another benefit of using printer paper is that it works with all printers. You can skip reading any ‘how to’ instructions and get quilting! No need to fear a paper jam or smearing ink. It’s also a versatile option, as you can use it for any printing you need to do. 

Printer paper is most commonly letter size (8.5” x 11”), which is the format used in many quilt patterns. You can hit print at 100% scale and rest assured that your pattern pieces/templates will print as required. Legal size paper (8.5” x 14”) is also used and is readily available at your local supply store. 

What are the cons of using printer paper for FPP?

Using printer paper has some drawbacks despite its convenience. The thickness/weight of the 90lbs bond paper is helpful in some situations and less so in others. The weight improves the durability of the template making it less susceptible to overhandling and tearing when ripping seams, but it does make it more difficult to insert pins, see through, and tear out from a finished piece.

Before we dive into a detailed breakdown of how printer paper performs, keep in mind that, like any product analysis, it’s important to determine your non-negotiables before deciding on what to use. It’s up to you - the quilter - whether cost takes priority over translucency or whether tearing out paper should be avoided at all costs. My hope is that this blog will inform your choice not make it for you. Now let's get to it!

What does it cost to use printer paper for FPP?

Printer paper is one of the most affordable options for foundation paper piecing. You can buy a ream (500 sheets) of letter size paper for roughly $11.00 CAD ($8.50 USD) which is $0.022 CAD/sheet ($0.017 USD/sheet). Other specialty FPP papers can become costly when making complex quilt designs requiring dozens of printed sheets.

As an added bonus, you will likely make use of any extra pages for everyday usage or you can buy in bulk to further reduce costs.

amazon.ca

What sizes of printer paper are available?

Printer paper is readily available in 8.5" x 11" (letter) and 8.5" x14" (legal) sizes, which fit most home printers. Tabloid size (11" x 17") is also readily available, although fewer home printers can accept this format, so check first before purchasing.

Can I print my FPP templates on printer paper?

Yes, and while this may seem like an obvious answer, keep in mind that not all paper is compatible with all printers. 

 image of copy paper and FPP templates with written notes.

What’s it like to cut out the templates?

Again, this may seem like a silly question, but I assure you it’s important. I've used lightweight paper that is quite flimsy to hold while cutting with scissors and it can be a frustrating and slow process. Cutting templates from printer paper is easy - you can use paper scissors or a rotary blade that you’ve designated for cutting paper.

How transparent is printer paper?

You may not require your template paper to be translucent in order to complete your pattern piece if you're comfortable with foundation paper piecing. But most quilters use a light box or a window to help them determine whether a piece of fabric is the right size and properly placed.

Transparency becomes even more important if you are using directional fabric or have fussy cut fabric pieces. 

Unfortunately, copy paper is the least translucent paper option for foundation paper piecing. Here’s how it performed for our test:

  • Scenario 1: A fabric piece placed beneath the template while on a cutting mat or table was not visible (see below).

image of fabric beneath copy paper that is not translucent

  • Scenario 2: A fabric piece glued to the wrong side of the template and then held up to a light through a window was very visible (see below).

 photo of a paper template placed up to a window to show the fabric on the other side. 

If you want to improve the visibility of your fabrics while sitting at your sewing machine, consider purchasing a light box or fashioning one of your own.

I don’t personally own a lightbox nor do I hold up each piece to a window or light source. You can learn more about how I confirm my fabric placement by reading this tutorial.

Can I iron printer paper?

Yes, you can use an iron with printer paper. I prefer an iron to a seam roller when foundation paper piecing as it works better to get the seam flat. Do not use steam when ironing your templates as it may cause the paper to warp.

Will ironing my FPP templates shrink them?

To test whether a dry iron will shrink copy paper, I used the 1” square available on each page of the pattern templates, and ran a dry iron over it for two seconds. When I measured the 1” square after ironing, it didn’t appear that the paper had shrunk. If it did, it was of minimal consequence.

 

Can I glue or tape my printer paper templates together?

Yes, either technique will work. Personally, I use a glue stick to join my paper templates. I apply the glue to one side of the template and hold both templates to a window to ensure that I accurately align the joining marker before pressing in place. This step can get a bit unruly if you’re managing pieces of tape while holding the templates in place.

What can I use to baste my FPP templates?

Both pins and glue will work to baste your fabric to the templates. Typically, I will use a glue stick to attach the first fabric piece to the template.  Then I'll use pins or nothing at all to attach subsequent fabrics pieces.

 glue stick being used to glue two foundation paper piecing templates together

  • If using glue, be aware that there will likely be remnants of paper left on the back of your patchwork once the templates are removed. The copy paper tears from the glue as it is not thick enough to withstand the pull. You can avoid this by tearing out the paper from your templates shortly after completing them. 
  • If using pins, I recommend that they be sharp. It's difficult to pierce the copy paper with a dull pin due to its thickness.

 

Is it easy to fold and crease printer paper?

Yes! That's why they're perfect for paper planes! All kidding aside, folding templates is a big component of foundation paper piecing, so it’s important that the templates can hold a crease as you work. Printer paper also holds up well to pre-folding if that’s your preferred technique.

 

How easy is it to tear out printer paper from FPP templates?

Due to its thickness, printer paper can be difficult to tear out when compared to lightweight papers. The most common complaint I hear about using printer paper is that it's difficult to remove. Here are a few tips to ease the process:

  • Ensure you are stitching with a 1.5mm stitch length to better perforate the paper.
  • Pre-perforate your templates by sewing along your template’s sewlines before attaching fabric.
  • Use a pair of tweezers to get itty bitty pieces out of your stitches or deep corners.

 image of hand tearing out paper from the back of a foundation paper pieced template 

Can I reuse FPP templates printed on printer paper?

Mistakes happen, so how does printer paper fare after a few seams have been ripped out? I found that it holds up to a couple of re-dos.

That being said, I believe there's a technique to ripping out your FPP seams: With the template paper side down, hold the fabric up with your left hand and hold the seam ripper parallel to the template with your right hand. Run the seam ripper through the stitches – staying relatively parallel - as you lightly pull up and away on the fabric.

Is it environmentally friendly to use printer paper for FPP?

Printer paper on its own is not the most environmentally friendly option, but there are some things you can do to reduce your environmental impact:

  • Save and reuse scrap paper whenever possible.
  • Recycle paper that you cut out or tear out.

If you are willing to spend a bit more money you can buy printer paper made from 100% recycled paper that cost approximately 1.5x the cost of standard printer paper.

 

In this blog:

Pattern: Arcturus Shield by Ships & Violins

Fabrics: An assortment of fabrics by Giucy Giuce for Andover Fabrics

Other supplies: Amazon Basics copy paper, Ormkraft cutting mat, Elmer's glue stick, Janome 6" x 24" ruler.

 

Do you use printer paper for foundation paper piecing? 

Let us know below!

Back to blog

3 comments

I have used printer paper, vellum and Newsprint. Yes I find printer paper available, and affordable all of the above.
Vellum perfect as above but for me using newsprint is the best.
Newsprint sturdy enough even for unsewing a seam. available at discount stores, and tears out nicely after a fold over.
Now for my cons: Printer paper- can stretch the seams while tearing, also leaves some tids in the sewn seam.
Vellum hard to find locally. Must mail order, expensive.
Newsprint the sizes sometimes have to be cut down to 8.5×11. Takes a few minutes but with cutter and ruler-a snap.
I love paper piecing or foundation piecing and will use what is available at the moment. Just adding my thoughts.
Thank you for you informative site and patterns. Wish I could get them all done.

Peg

I use the specialty foundation paper. I have used copy paper several times and always regretted it, usually when I am picking pieces out with tweezers! Velum paper smears in my ink jet printers so I don’t use it.

Vivian

I’ve used both printer paper and vellum paper. Vellum paper was my favorite since it’s see through and it tears easily.

Kathie

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.

Cristina De Miranda

Cristina De Miranda has been crafting and creating since her early years watching Art Attack. A tactile world of colour, pattern, and design appeared before her when a colleague introduced her to quilting in 2018. Cristina quickly dusted off her sewing machine and dived into a plethora of designer fabrics. Today, she is totally and irreversibly immersed in a whimsical world called Ships & Violins.