Designing a Foundation Pieced Block from a Photograph

This mini tutorial on how to design a foundation paper pieced block from a photograph was written by Lily Kerns with the focus on her "Ozark Garden" class.

1. Find a photo in the general style and composition you want. I finally purchased the rights to use an inexpensive low resolution photo from Note: if you want use this same image, you too must purchase the right to use it.

Note: If I were home with my desktop, I'd be using CorelDraw to design the pattern, Screencast-o-matic to capture the process and Camtasia to edit the video. On my iPad I'm using Inkpad to draw my lines over the image. I could also use a print and tracing paper. This image is just a quick start. My iPad is no substitute for a desktop when it comes to finished patterns! 

2. Draw the block outline around the image. This can be adjusted slightly as you polish the pattern.

Block outline shown in red

3. Draw a basic section line from one side of the block outline to the other. It must echo a primary direction line of the image. In this case, I needed two section lines to define the outer body edges of my owl.

Basic section lines in red

4. Subdivide the sections with more straight lines that identify contours in your photo.

Red lines show one subdivision divided up

5. Plan your piecing order. This can take a bit of time because there is no one right way to do this. In general, if a patch or section covers a seam line, it must be added after the other seam.

Numbering is shown for above subdivision
(note: in this example the eyes will be appliqued on later)

6. Separate the main sections and add seam allowances to them. I prefer half inch seam allowances here because that allows a bit of wiggle room for trimming the final block to needed size. 

7. Make a test block. Rework your pattern if necessary.

I know this seems a daunting task, but it is a lot of fun and not that hard. You are the artist so you get to decide just how complex you want the pattern to be. The nice thing about foundation paper piecing is that a complex pattern is no harder than a simple one! You just have a few more sections to sew together as you finish.