This week I have been back to piecing units and blocks for some new patterns. Whenever I do this, I think about accurate piecing and how to achieve it. For some units you are making, it is possible to make the unit bigger and then cut it to size, like you do for half-square triangle squares. However, this does not work with every type of unit or block. If you make it bigger and then trim it down to size you may cut off some of the design. So the answer is, accurate measuring, cutting and piecing! Let’s get started for this week.
Start at the Beginning – Accurate Measuring & Cutting
Accurate piecing can not be achieved without accurately cutting out the pieces that make up your quilt blocks. And accurate cutting starts with accurate measuring. This starts with the rulers. Make sure you are using rulers with clear markings. I like Creative Grid rulers because they are clear and have large numbers and well marked increments.
Here’s a closeup:
The numbers and markings also go in both directions so no matter how the ruler is turned, you will be able to use it.
If you are cutting a lot of strips of the same width all in a row, use some painter’s tape to mark the measurement line on your ruler. This will help you to quickly find your measurement and assure you are not cutting strips the wrong size.
This tape is easy to remove and should not leave any residue on your ruler. I keep a roll of this tape in my notions drawer by my cutting table.
Don’t rely on the lines on your cutting mat unless you have measured them with your rulers and the mat lines are accurate. I did this with my mat and am confident that it is accurate so I do use it occasionally for cutting very large pieces. I also use the line on the bottom to line up my fabric when I am squaring it up (this is before I place the rulers for squaring).
Accurate cutting can not happen unless you have your fabric properly squared. There are several steps in squaring fabric. It’s easier to show the steps than to write them out, so I made a mini tutorial video. Always square a new piece of fabric before you start cutting, especially strips. If you don’t, you run the risk of strips that will be bowed or bent in the middle. Here’s the video:
A good thing to remember is you may have to re-square your fabric during the process of cutting strips, especially if you are cutting a large amount of them.
Finally, some thoughts on rotary cutting. Make sure your blade is sharp. If it skips as you are cutting or if you feel like you have to press down hard, then it’s time to replace the blade. A blade that is not sharp can fray the edges of your fabric and it can also lead to accidents… and not just cutting the wrong size strips.
Also, be sure to hold your rotary cutter correctly while cutting. The photos below illustrate the difference. If you hold it wrong like in the photo on the left, you could end up with a strip not measuring correctly. Plus you can be pushing the ruler off its mark this way.
The cutter should just “hug” the edge of your ruler, but not put pressure on it, for an accurate cut.
Also, be sure to hold your ruler correctly so it does not shift when cutting, which will also lead to measurements being off.
Tent your hand, like in the photo on the left. This directs the pressure from your hand downward to hold the ruler in place. By laying your hand flat, like on the right, you can accidently push the ruler off the measurement because there is no downward pressure or it’s not as strong as the tented hand. There are some cool notions out there that can help you to grip the ruler and have strong even pressure.
On to Accurate Piecing
Now that you have your strips and pieces cut correctly, how do you make sure your units and blocks are pieced to the accurate size? Here are several tips for you.
Seam allowance! Always make sure you are stitching with a 1/4″ seam (unless the pattern tells you otherwise). This is how you end up with a unit or block that measures the size the pattern requires.
Start out by using a 1/4″ foot for your machine and testing it on scrap fabric. Take 2 scrap pieces of fabric and stitch them together. When stitching, the edge of the 1/4″ foot should line up with the raw edge of the pieces you are stitching. Once you’ve stitched the pieces, use a ruler (as shown below) to measure the seam to determine if your 1/4″ foot is accurate.
Even if you have a 1/4″ foot, it’s a good idea to find markings on your machine’s throat plate that marks the 1/4″. Most machines today, especially machines made specifically for quilting, have these markings. Here’s mine (where I’m pointing with my scissors):
You can also mark a tape line on your machine. I have done this with painter’s tape because it’s easy to remove and like I mentioned above, it doesn’t leave any residue.
The edge of the painter’s tape on the left side helps me line up diagonal seams like those used in making half-square triangle squares or stitch and flip corners. The drawn line is my 1/4″ marking.
Always pin your piece that you are stitching together. This goes for when you are piecing units or blocks.
This keeps the pieces from shifting as they are fed through the machine and it also helps you to keep seams of blocks lined up.
Measure units as you go. When you get done piecing a unit or units, measure and make sure they measure as stated in the pattern. I keep a small ruler by my machine just for that purpose.
By doing this, you will avoid having whole blocks either not going together smoothly or mot measuring the correct size when you are done piecing them. Even being off by a 1/16 of an inch on units can get magnified if all your units in the block are off.
I think these tips should get you started on your way to accurately cutting and piecing… or serving as a memory refresh if you are an experienced quilter. Hopefully you learned something new! Leave a comment or ask any questions you may have below. I’ll choose a winner from the comments to receive my pattern, Liberty Star Shine, in honor of Memorial Day.
The drawing will be on Monday, June 6th. Good luck! **We have a winner! Congrats, Janet!**
Thanks for your great tips. I was originally taught to not tent my hand on the ruler, will try tenting and see which works best for me. Enjoy your blogs every week!
Brenda M Tucker says
Thanks for all the great tips, as a newbie I need all the tips you give us!!! These were some I’ll be using now…
Thx for the reminders about cutting and sewing accurately! Your quilt is lovely!
Thanks again for all the great tips! I have also learned to keep painters tape in my notion box to use when cutting a bunch of strips or squares the same size. I don’t know how many times I’ve been cutting a bunch of strips and later on realize one (or more…) are the wrong size. It has saved a lot of frustration!
Maybe a future blog idea: I see you press your seams open and your block looks really nice and flat. I’ve tried that now and then, but I’d love to hear your why and how.
Nanette Chopin Cook says
I love reading your posts! Great information for those newbies – Great visuals and advice. Pinning is so critical along with squaring each section! Things that are not taught anymore! Hugs
Donna S says
I do use the painter’s tape. It is so helpful. Thanks for the review about squaring up fabric. Wish each pattern would include enough fabric so that when you square up, you don’t fall short of fabric. There could be a note telling that extra fabric included for squaring up the fabric.
My patterns all include about 10% more fabric than required just for that reason and also in case someone likes to pre-wash their fabric.
Mary Puskar says
Really good article. Learn new things every day! Love the fabrics you use.
Debbie Miller says
Excellent article on cutting and sewing with accuracy! I have trouble with doing both-something or me always moves just a little. I will try harder with these tips fresh in my mind and hope for the best!
Janet T says
Thanks for the tip showing the 1/4in mark on the throat plate. I am going to check my machine for one. I do have a 1/4 in foot, but even though I keep the fabric inside the flange, it still seems to make the seam too wide. I don’t use it anymore.