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Paper Piecing with SVGs

Paper Piecing with SVGs main article image
Posted on February 3, 2021 by Natalie Ballard

Paper piecing is an intermediate level skill that gives very professional results and extends your SVG for new uses and effects. It works with calculations such as weld, subtract and divide to create new layers that we can cut to build our design. You can also use the same technique for layering vinyl designs for multi-coloured  projects.

Stage 1: Paper piecing with text

When you are first learning paper piecing, it can help to work with a font as they tend to have nice simple apertures for you to work with. Here we are using the ‘Hello Baby‘ font as a basis for our design, but you can do this technique with most scripts fonts as well as some other specialty fonts. For this first design, we will stick to just two layers to get you started.

Selecting decorative glyphs to add to your text

Start by selecting your Text tool by pressing [T], click on your artboard and type your text and adding any glyphs you want to work with. Style your text into your chosen layout first using tracking, kerning and your other character tools. You can even use additional decorative elements from your font by using the Glyphs panel in most software (or Character Map on PC).

Creating the layers and recolouring

Convert the text to curves which will then group all your characters into individual shapes. If we were to try to cut these like this, we would end up with lots of individual letters. So, what we need to do next is weld these together. Depending on your software, you will find this command in different places but all your software will have this basic functionality.

Affinity: Select your text and go to [Layer] – [Convert to Curves]. You will need to use [Geometry] – [Weld] – [Divide] – [Subtract] to weld your text and punch the letter centres back through.

Illustrator: [Layer] – [Convert to Curves] and then [Pathfinder] – [Add]

Corel Draw: Just use [Weld] at the top of the screen or you can add it to your right hand panel

Inkscape: [Object] – [Convert Object to Path] and then [Ungroup]. Then use [Path] – [Union] to weld the characters together.

This first layer forms your outline for your design and up to this point you’ve probably done all of this before…

… Now to step it up a gear…

First, you need to duplicate your outline shape as a basis for your paper piecing. Now, you may think it simply a case of cutting this original design twice and putting the inside shapes from one piece into the other, but this isn’t always seamless. So, instead, we are going to be creating a background layer to fill in the design.

So, to create the background layer we need to remove the inner spaces from the design. We do this by dividing the duplicated design so the holes reappear as solid shapes and then welding them all together.

Affinity: With your duplicate layer selected, [Divide] and then [Weld]

Illustrator: With your duplicate selected, [Divide] and [Add]

Corel Draw: Use [Boundary] and deselect [Leave original].

Inkscape: Add in a rectangle behind your duplicate design, select the rectangle and the duplicate design and [Divide]. Delete the outside rectangle and use [Union] to weld the characters together.

This gives you a simple 2 colour design that you can use to create your artwork with. Cut each shape from a different material and adhere together.

Stage 2: Paper piecing with a design

As you start to get more confident with the above method, you can start to create additional colour layers to create more complex designs.

Outline only duplicated ready for process

For this project, I will be using “Flower SVG Files, Flower Cut File” from Creative Fabrica, in particular “0143 flower_1.svg” which you can find in the SVG folder once your download has been unzipped.

For this process, we just need the outline of the file, everything else can be ungrouped and removed.

As the outline is already one shape, you want to create a duplicate of this shape for each colour you want to add (don’t worry if you want to add extra layers later you can). 

Lock one copy of your outline, this becomes the final outline as well as your source file should you need to add another layer or restart. This is done by clicking the padlock next to the layer or with the layer selected (depending on your software).

Creating the background layer

Creating the background layer

When we are doing this technique, work from the outside in OR inside out but be consistent. With the next layer, we are going to create our nice easy background using a  similar technique to our text. This is going to be used to layer all our other elements onto… 

1 Start by selecting a duplicate of your outline and using [Divide] to separate it into the outline and inner sections. 

2 With these sections now visible, we can now [Weld] these into a solid shape to form our bottom layer. 

3 Fill this with a nice green for your foliage elements. 

4 Send this now coloured layer to the back.

Creating a colour layer

Creating the next coloured layer

1 Select your next unlocked outline shape (or duplicate a new one if you’ve run out). 

2 Follow the same process as for the background layer Step 1, but then we are going to delete areas to reveal the colour beneath. Do the divide as with the previous layer so we can see the inside and the outside shapes. 

Selecting the areas to remove

3 This time, however, we are going to select the inside shapes where we want our base layer to show through. The easiest way to do this is using the Layers palette and press and hold [Cmd] on a Mac or [CTRL] on a PC while selecting the shapes. 

4 Once you have all your individual shapes selected, also select the outline in the same way. 

5 Use subtract to remove these inner shapes from the outline to keep a stable even border. 

6 You can then delete the remaining inner shapes and re-colour your new layer to your next colour preference.

You want to repeat this last process for each layer working consistently through your colour layers. 

Removing the elements of the next layer

Having created the third (yellow) layer, creating the next coloured layer (pink)

Almost finished with all layers now in place

As you get more skilled at doing this, you can start to play with the shadows created by your layers to create optical illusions. You can even practice this digitally by applying drop shadow effects to your individual layers.

Previewing with the shadows in place

When exporting your SVG for your cutter, use your usual settings for your software and cutter, but be sure to keep all your layers in one document so you keep them all in the correct size and proportion. You can then import the design into your cutter software, and cut your design one layer at a time. IMPORTANT: Remember to turn off the effects on layers BEFORE exporting to SVG to avoid compatibility issues.

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February 3, 2021

Omg natalie that is awesome thank you so much for explaining it with pictures as well ,

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Go Create Craft

February 3, 2021


You're welcome Tracy. I was recording a video this morning on the next level of this process in SCAL for those who are more confident with their design software.

ShopwithTracysw's profile picture

February 3, 2021

Can’t wait excited now

Linda Sayers

February 3, 2021

Fantastic Natalie, so very easily explained. Thank you so much x

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Go Create Craft

February 3, 2021


Thank you Linda :)
I'm just writing the next one, but always happy to help with any questions

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