Welcome back! It’s time for more tips for beginners. This week I will cover accurate piecing tips. Accurate piecing is essential in quilting and a must for all beginners to learn. It’s also great to brush up on these tips as an experienced quilter. I like to go back to these basics even though I been quilting for 30+ years. Sometimes when you do something for years, you start to cut corners. But, cutting corners can lead to blocks and quilts that don’t turn out right. So let’s get started on the tips!
Tip #1 Sew with a 1/4″ Seam
As a beginner you have heard that the 1/4″ seam is essential for accurate piecing. As sewers of clothing are familiar with the 5/8″ seam, so should quilters be with the 1/4″ seam. Patterns are written and pieces are cut for a quilt with this seam allowance built in (unless it’s otherwise noted). There are many things that can effect achieving an accurate 1/4″ seam, but some of the ones I think are most important are needle position, quilting foot and thread thickness.
Needle Position: Needle position is important so that your straight stitched seam is exactly 1/4″ from the edge of the fabric pieces you are stitching. Make sure your needle is in the correct position before stitching units and blocks, especially if you switch needle position when you are doing non-quilting stitching. Here’s how my needle positioning button looks on my machine:
Use scrap fabric, sew a seam as you move the needle incrementally to the right or left until the resulting seam measures 1/4″. This is especially helpful if you do not have a specialty 1/4″ quilting foot on your machine to use as a guide.
Quilting Foot: Some machines meant only for quilting will come with a 1/4″ foot standard. But if your machine does not, I highly recommend you get one. Here’s mine:
But even if you purchase one of these, you still need to test the seam width on scrap fabric before you use it for a project.
Thread Thickness: If you change your thread and it’s a different thickness from the previous thread you have been using, you may need to adjust your needle position to account for more or less thickness. Keep this in mind if you move between different thread brands. You may have to test seams again.
Here’s how to check on your seam allowance as you adjust needle position, allow for thread thickness and also checking that your 1/4″ foot is actually accurate.
First, stitch two scrap strips together using the your 1/4” foot as the guide and then measure the seam.
If you don’t have a 1/4″ foot, there are markings on your machine’s throat plate to use as a guide (I’m pointing the pin to that line on my machine.):
Once you sew that seam and measure it, if it does not measure 1/4″, this is where allowing for thread thickness or inaccuracy of your throat plate markings or sewing foot is managed with needle positioning. You may have to sew several scrap seams and measure to get the right seam measurement. These may seem tedious, but if you want your block units, blocks and quilts to piece together and seams to match up, the 1/4″ seam needs to be consistent throughout.
Tip #2: Pin!!!
I’m known for sometimes skipping this step if I am in a hurry and stitching shorter seams. I’m here to say… do not skip this. It’s important to pin to keep the fabric pieces from shifting while you stitch the seam. One little shift by the top or bottom piece while it is feeding through your machine can cause the unit to not measure correctly because your seam isn’t accurate.
If you are joining blocks together that have multiple seams, pinning is even more important to keep those seams lined up.
Tip #3 Leader/Ender Scrap
This is a tip I learned a few years into quilting. If you use a scrap of fabric to start and end your stitching, it helps to keep your seam straight. Any puckering or skipped stitches will happen on the scrap:
It also gives you the opportunity to make sure you are sewing straight and not veering off your 1/4″ seam.
Tip #4 Press Your Seams Flat
Whether you press your seams to one side or press them open, flat seams are important for your stitched units and blocks to measure accurately. I like to press my seams open, I find it gives me more accurate measurements. Either way you choose to press your seams, make sure no fabric is bunched up anywhere and the seam lays flat on both sides of your piece.
The seam on the left was not pressed so it lays flat on the bottom and the top. You can see the red strip is creased a bit over the seam. The photo on the right shows the seam pressed correctly. That red strip is now flat with no fabric creased.
Also, make sure you are pressing your seams and not ironing them. If you iron across seams, you can distort them causing your unit or block not to measure accurately. Here’s a mini tutorial on pressing seams:
- Use a stiletto or other item to keep the units you are stitching together straight as you feed them under the presser foot. Also, as you are guiding your fabric through, make sure you are not pulling it towards you or holding it too tight because that can cause the top layer of fabric to move slower than the bottom layer is moving across the feed dogs making your seams uneven.
- There are pressure adjustments for your presser foot. Make sure the pressure is strong enough to keep your fabric from slipping out from under the foot when it’s down, but not too strong that it causes your fabric not to move evenly with the feed dogs.
- Finally, backstitch when beginning and when ending a seam to lock it. This will keep the seam of the stitched unit from opening up (photo below). If a seam of a unit opens while you are piecing it into a block, that can lead to a unit or block not measuring correctly.
Well, that’s it for this week. If you have some tips to share or you have questions, use the comments below and you will be entered into the drawing for the two current magazine issues that have my patterns in them.
The drawing will be on Monday, February 28th.***We have a winner! Congrats, Carol!***
Always worth reading your tips, even as a seasoned quilter.
Great tip about rechecking your 1/4″ seam if you change width of thread.
Eugenia Read says
Always enjoy reading your tips and suggestions. Thanks for sharing.
What do you think of a scant 1/4 inch seam, I was taught this as when sewing at 1/4 inch a thread or 2 can add to that 1/4 inch seam?
I have always pressed and not ironed as you illustrated. Learned that the hard way when ironing blocks with my first quilt, definitely skewed each block.
Thanks for your time and tips!
I think you also had this trick in an earlier blog post, but I always use a leader scrap. And I save all the little flippy corners I cut off of other projects and use those as my leaders sewing a 1/4″ seam on those and eventually you’ve got yourself a nice bunch of little scrappy half square triangles ready for a little project.
Great idea for those pieces cut off. Save them as leader scraps or actually make a mini project!
Muriel Carroll says
Thank you for the tip re using a scrap to start … it makes a difference when matching seams
Janice Stewart says
Starch can also help if your blocks are cut on the bias.
Definitely. It will stabilize the bias of the fabric which is the most unstable.
Regina Bohannon says
As a former garment maker I’ve had to learn some new skills. Using a stilleto is new for me and presser foot pressure adjustments is a scary thought! But I am so thankful for teachers like you, Deanne!!
Debbie Benzi says
Do you use spray starch or Mary Ellen’s Spray Starch Alternative? If you use spray starch, is there a particular brand? Thank you, these are great tips!
Anne Little says
Great tips, thank you. I wonder if back stitching adds to the bulk of the seam and is it necessary if a leader/ender is used.
I have not found that backstitching adds bulk as long as you limit it to just a few stitches.
I use Mary Ellen’s Best Press for my starch when I press.
If your using the same weight of thread and change brands perhaps due to a different color of fabric, does that differ in the block size?
I don’t think there would be a problem here as long as you are staying with the same weight and brand. If you change brands, I would recommend doing a test seam.
Who knew you could adjust the pressure on the foot. I need to check this out. I love finding out these tips that the dealer never tells you.
I am always anxious to learn new tips. Even if I have heard them before. Sometimes we need a refresher course as we go. I have learned that the pressing and not ironing is a big difference. I also use a lot of spray starch. It really helps keep my blocks neat. In the long run, I think it makes my whole block nicer. It takes a little more time. But, when your putting that much money and effort into something. It is worth it. Thanks for all your tips and help.
Sharon Orr says
Loved your tips! I copied them to share with granddaughter 🙂
Thanks for the tip on different thicknesses of thread brands. Never paid attention before.
Janet brooks says
Thanks for sharing all of your great tips.
Susan Lemay Stanley says
As always, great info from a pro! Thank you.
Gwen Smith says
I especially enjoyed the pressing tutorial. Thank you for all the excellent tips.
I learned the hard way regarding pressing vs ironing. Thanks for the great tips. Always helpful to have refreshes.
Joyce Campbell says
Thank you for all your tutorials. I appreciate all the information.
Very good info even for us longtime quilters. We tend to get lax about some things. Thanks.
Judy Schuler says
Thank you for your tips. The one direction in patterns I have a hard time with is the statement “use a scant 1/4 inch”. How do you work with that instruction? Ignore it or is there a trick? Thanks again.
I like to use a scant 1/4″ (just slightly narrower that 1/4″) when stitching half-square triangle squares because it’s easy to measure and trim the squares down. The same for other simple units where trimming down won’t interfere with the design. I don’t generally recommend it when piecing a block, unless it is a very simple block and cutting it down to size won’t hurt the design or cut off any points.
Great question and even better explanation! Thank you both!