Last week I gave some tips on fabric buying and cutting. Continuing on to the next logical step, it’s time to piece the units that will eventually create the blocks and the quilt. We talked about accuracy when cutting out the pieces for your quilt project, but you also need to carry that accuracy over to piecing. This ensures your units and blocks will measure the size required by the pattern to complete your quilt successfully. That’s the topic for this week. Let’s get started!
Everything starts there. Sewing with a 1/4″ seam is required for most, if not all, quilt patterns. If a pattern requires a different width seam, it will note it. So, if there is no notation on width of seam to use, assume it’s always 1/4″. The reason for this is that when pieces are cut out, they are cut with a 1/4 seam allowance figured in.
This is why you will see descriptions like this in a pattern:
Your block will measure 12 1/2 x 12 1/2″. The finished size is 12 x 12″.
The finished size is the size the block will be once it is pieced into a quilt.
My number one tips for achieving a 1/4″ seam is to start with a 1/4″ foot and always sew a practice seam before beginning a projects. Here’s my 1/4″ foot:
And here is one of my practice seams I stitched and measured.
If you do not have a 1/4″ foot, you can use the throat plate on your machine as a guide. The mark is usually fairly small (see my photo below) but you can make it more noticable by adding a strip of painter’s tape to extend it a bit.
I used the tape measure to help me place the tape. Once you complete this step, sew another practice seam to make sure you have an accurate 1/4″ seam.
Scant 1/4″ Seam
You’ve seen this in patterns, but what does that mean and why do you want to use that? A scant 1/4″ seam is when you sew a seam with a width that is just a hair UNDER 1/4″. I use this seam when I am piecing half-square triangles together … making half-square triangle squares (HSTs) the old fashioned way and when I am piecing strips for strips sets. These are two unit types that can be trimmed down to the size needed after piecing.
The scant 1/4″ works even if you are chain stitching the pre-cut squares for HSTs. Here’s an example:
In the photo on the left, you can see I placed the drawn line on the square aligned with the right edge of the 1/4″ foot. A scant 1/4″ is shown in the photo on the right. I moved the square a hair to the left so the drawn line was under the right side of the 1/4″ foot. This will give me a seam just a hair under 1/4″. That’s a scant!
And then it’s on to trimming with one of my favorite tools: the Quilt in a Day Triangle Square-up ruler.
Now for using the scant 1/4″ for strip sets. When using a scant 1/4″for piecing these sets, each time you add a strip press and trim up the set before adding the next strip. Below are photos showing the first steps of joining 3 strips into a strip set measuring 3 1/2″ wide when done. I’m beginning three 1 1/2″ wide strips.
Once again, instead of lining up the edge of my unit to be pieced with the edge of the 1/4″ foot, I move it a hair to the left (as shown in the last photo). Once those strips are stitched, the strip set should measure 2 1/2″ wide. To achieve this I press the set, place the ruler evenly on the strip set to trim it to 2 1/2″. The 1 1/4″ line of the ruler should rest on the center seam to be centered for trimming.
Now I add on the next strip with a scant 1/4″ seam, press and then trim. Lay the 1 1/4″ line of the ruler on the new seam and trim. When finished, the strip set measures the 3 1/2″ width as required.
More Piecing Accuracy Tips
Tip #1: Another piecing accuracy tip to go with the seam size is to ALWAYS pin the pieces you are joining. Even if it’s just a short seam.
I confess that I can be in a hurry and skip pinning, but that’s when you get units that don’t measure accurately when you are done. If the pieces you are joining are not pinned, the top or bottom piece can shift while you are stitching the seam and then the unit will not measure correctly.
Tip #2: Measure units as you go. It’s easier to un-sew smaller units instead of an entire block when you realize it doesn’t measure correctly. For example, if I am making several flying geese units for a block and they need to measure 2 x 3 1/2″ each so the block comes out the correct size, I measure the geese units (like below) as I complete them. That way, when I am ready to piece the block, I know all the units measure accurately. That, along with accurate 1/4″ seams guarantee my blocks will be the right size!
So that’s it for this week! Share your comments and questions below and I will enter you into a drawing for my pattern, String Star Runners.
This pattern will give you a lot of practice on accurate piecing, especially piecing strip sets. The drawing will be on Monday, February 20th. Good luck! **We have a winner! Congrats, Suzy!**