Paper...paper...which paper? Or not paper!

Nothing stirs up more threads on the quiltlists as the one about which paper is best to use for foundation piecing. I have mentally saved all of the recent discussion of the subject and decided to put it into a table for you (before I mentally *unforget* it)!

Regular computer paper

Or photocopy paper

Readily available

Holds up to "rip outs"

Feeds through printer in stacks.

Hard to see through unless light held under it.

Hardest to remove, it leaves 'bits" in the seams..

*(see below) Must use very, very short stitch length and a large size sewing needle.

Really (really) cheap typing paper

My personal very favorite!

Transparent enough to see through.

Feeds through printer well.

Easy to remove.


*Use shorter stitch length

Use larger size needle.

Tracing paper

Brands I've used: Strathmore Tracing paper 300 Series. Yellow cover.

Mead Academie Tracing Paper. Bought at Ben Franklin. Gray cover.

The cheap type you buy for children doesn't hold up as well as the professional architect type.


Very easy to see through

*Can use a longer stitch length

Very easy to remove.

Curls under a hot iron

Shrinks up to 1/16" to 1/8" under a hot iron, so your finished product will be smaller. "Pre-shrink" your paper with a hot iron before using it. (No joke)

Doesn't hold up well under "rip outs"

Depending on brand, it can be costly.

Must be fed through printer one sheet at a time, or glue stick top edge to a piece of regular computer paper and feed through that way.

Parchment paper

Brand I've used: Bienfang Commercial Art Papers Designer Series Parchment 100

Bought at Office Max, black cover.

Some have used a baker's type of parchment. It is used to line cake pans and comes on a roll.


Very easy to see through.

Can use longer stitch length.

Very easy to remove.

Curls under a hot iron

Shrinks up to 1/16" to 1/8" under a hot iron.

Doesn't hold up well under "rip outs".

Depending on brand, it can be costly.

Must be fed through printer one sheet at a time, or glue stick top edge to a piece of regular computer paper and feed through that way.

Drafting Velum

I have used: Bienfang Satin Design 147M (medium weight) Bought at Office Max, black cover

Like looking through glass.

*Requires a shorter stitch length.

Holds up to "rip outs" better than tracing paper but not as well as computer or copy paper.

Very easy to remove


Hard to locate in areas.

Deli Parchment paper

This is the waxy paper type, not the plastic type. I find more in the "self-serve" cookie or doughnut area. There are different weights, sizes and textures. I also found a heavier type of it in the bottom of a pizza box. 


Very see through.

*Can use longer stitch length.

Very easy to remove

You can beg some off at the bakery or deli to try it out.

Has a glassy coating that doesn't hold the ink well (light printouts)

Tears more easily and doesn't hold up as well to "rip outs".

Doctor office exam table paper

Okay, what else do you think about while you are waiting in there!

Cut to size to fit printer.


See through

*Can use longer stitch length.

Very easy to remove.

You can beg some off at the Doc's office to try it out.

Tears more easily 

Doesn't hold up as well to "rip outs".

Have to hand feed through printer one sheet at a time.

Onion skin typing paper Lightweight

Very see through.

*Can use longer stitch length

Very easy to remove.

Some brands have a coating that makes the fabric stick to it when pressed, great for holding the last fabric in place while you add a new piece.

A little hard to find anymore.

A bit costly.

Gets brittle under a hot iron and actually cracks when bent back to trim seams.

Newsprint or recycled computer paper (tan color) Can see through it with light behind it.

You can also get newspaper "roll ends" at printers for a small price or free.

A little softer than copy paper.

Tears away more easily than copy paper.

Doesn't hold up to "rip outs" as well as copy or computer paper.

Rolls must be cut to "printer sheet" size.

Freezer Paper 

(from Liz Ewing, Fort Smith, AR )

Has the advantage of holding down each piece of fabric while the next piece is applied. 

Print on the paper side, sticks to the shiny side.

Warm paper with iron for easier removal.

If freezer paper is too thick, then the sewing centers sell a paper that can be ironed on, but it is a lighter weight.

Have to cut to "printer sheet" size.

Short stitch length, large needle.

Non-paper foundation piecing

You can use fabric, such as muslin, as a base for foundation piecing as well. This is especially good if you are foundation piecing as a take along project by hand instead of sewing machine. Pre-shrink your fabric.

Transferring pattern to muslin...
Even more unusual things to foundation piece on...
You can buy special rubber stamps for some patterns. Dryer sheets... Some quilters have sewn on used dryer sheets with success. You can leave these on the back and are good if you aren't hand quilting.
Using your printer... You can iron fabric to the shiny side of freezer paper then cut to "printer sheet" size and feed through your ink jet, laser or dot matrix printer. This is good for WWW patterns and those you draft yourself. Very thin lightest weight interfacing. You can leave this on the back and is good if you aren't hand quilting. It is very see through and if ironed to freezer paper can be put through the printer. Or you can hand trace on the design, or use one of the other methods at the left.
Using a photo-copy or laser printer printout... You can take a fresh photo-copy or laser printout (not ink jet) and iron the ink print to fabric several times. The image will be reversed so plan ahead. Just lay the ink side to fabric and press with a hot iron. Test for time and heat setting on your foundation fabric type. Rip away interfacing. Our local quilt shop even puts this through their printer. I've never tried it myself.
Transfer pens. Hand copy your image with the special transfer pens and you can transfer the pattern several times. Curtain lining. You can leave this on the back and is thin enough even if you are hand quilting. The disadvantage is that it is slippery and may distort the pattern if you aren't careful.
And what if you do rip your paper? To rip-out without paper tears.
Repairing paper tears. I have found that if you have to do a rip out and tear the paper, you can glue stick down a piece of tracing or lightweight paper over the torn paper where the seam was and then just re-stitch over that and it holds up great. To rip out without paper tears. Try this. Cut your fabric on the piece you want to remove very very close to the stitching on the seam allowance side. Then you can fray the fabric piece from under the seam stitching threads and it will come right off. This does leave the thread from your stitching still intact but doesn't rip the paper. Just re-sew over the first thread when putting on the new fabric and it won't even show. 

Photocopying can distort your patterns, so be sure to measure your patterns carefully after copying the first one. The most accurate way to get multiple patterns, short of hand tracing them, is to re-draw them yourself in a quilting, drawing or a CAD program and then print them out on your printer.

An alternate way to make multiple paper copies: Lay one traced pattern on top of a stack of papers cut slightly larger than the original pattern. So the stack doesn't shift while sewing, staple the stack together with the pointy ends of the staples up, so they don't catch on your sewing machine, . *Unthread your sewing machine* and sew along the original pattern lines through the whole stack. The sewing order won't be numbered on the hole punched patterns, but you use a guide pattern to figure it out.

*Stitch Length

LIGHTWEIGHT PAPERS... I  have had some quilters say they don't like tracing or parchment paper because it tears apart at the seams while they sew. If your paper is shredding on the seams as you sew, LENGTHEN the stitch length. Your needle is perforating it too much. Test it until it doesn't do it any more but also make sure the stitches aren't too long, making the paper hard to remove. I know you have heard short, short, and shorter stitch length, however, the thinner and lighter weight papers like tracing and parchment paper don't need as short a stitch length or as large a sewing needle as the copy or computer paper. COPY PAPER... If you ever received a FP block in swap and the quilter didn't use a short enough stitch length to sew on copy or computer printer paper, you know it is almost impossible to pull off the paper without ripping the stitches out right along with it. You must use almost 18 stitches to the inch to sew on copy paper to be able to remove the paper easily! Once again, test it and make sure. Just sew strips of fabric on a test square. Than make a notation of the length setting on your particular sewing machine on the back. You also need to use a large sewing needle to perforate this type of paper.

Next check out... Preparing your foundations

Please... if you have any additions, disagreements, or corrections please e-mail me at: and let me know.... Unless stated otherwise, these are my mostly my own opinions on the various papers. 

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