You are piecing your quilt blocks and, eventually, your quilt together and things aren’t going smoothly. Seams don’t match… blocks are different sizes, etc. You feel like tossing the whole project into the UFO bin. What went wrong? The tips I will share in this week’s post will guide you through steps you can take to not end up with another lost project. Let’s get started on important steps I think you should not to skip if you want to end up with a quilt you can use and be proud to show off or give away as a gift!
Cutting the Fabric
All successful quilts start with cutting your fabric. Yes… it’s starts that early! Do not rush through cutting fabric even though you are anxious to head to the sewing machine. I recommend cutting the entire project out at one time to ensure you have the right amount of fabric. Once you are done cutting, organize the cut pieces in the order you will be using them. This is a second chance to make sure you didn’t miss anything.
Tip #1: The most important tip: use the same brand of ruler when cutting out the pieces for your quilt. I use Creative Grid rulers.
These rulers have really clear markings in both directions so no matter which side of the ruler you are using, you can find the measurement you want. They also have a slip resistant back. If you use rulers of different brands, the slight differences in markings may cause cutting errors on your part.
Tip #2: If you have to cut a lot of strips the same width, I recommend using painter’s tape to mark the width on your ruler for a guide. That way if you are cutting a lot of 2 1/2″ strips, you won’t accidentally cut one too wide or too narrow, which would waste fabric.
See how the line of tape will make it hard for you to miss the mark? I like doing this when I am cutting a lot of strips mainly because fabric is so expensive and I don’t want to make a mistake!
Tip #3: Hold your ruler firmly and hold your rotary cutter correctly. A shifting ruler can send your rotary cutter “off course” and cause an inaccurate cut. Even pressure from your hand holding the ruler keeps it from shifting.
Tenting your hand (left photo) keeps the pressure going downward and holds the ruler in place. A flat hand, like on the right, can push the ruler off the mark. Also, hold your rotary cutter correctly:
The way the cutter is positioned in the photo on the right can cause it to push against the ruler sending it off course.
Piecing Your Units & Blocks
When you are done cutting everything out, it’s time to start piecing. You can’t start this without making sure your machine sews an accurate 1/4″ seam.
Tip #1: Use a 1/4″ foot made for your machine. If it didn’t come with one, I recommend buying one. This is not a wasted expense. Even with a 1/4″ foot, be sure to sew a test seam with scrap fabric and measure it before you begin your project. Things like needle position or thread weight can effect a seam width.
Tip #2: Pin! Even the smallest pieces that are to be joined should be pinned.
I’ve been tempted to skip pinning when it’s a very short seam if I am in a hurry, but this leads you into a habit of not pinning at all. Not using pins can lead to fabric edges and seams shifting out of alignment while stitching. Then it’s time to pull out the seam ripper, something we all want to avoid!
Tip #3: Measure units as you go so you won’t be frustrated when you are piecing the final block together. For example, if you are piecing a star block that is made up of squares and flying geese units, measure the geese units as you go to make sure they are the size they need to be for the block.
By measuring all the geese units before piecing them into the star block, you will save yourself a headache later on because all of the block pieces will fit together smoothly.
Pressing Units and Blocks
Finally, pressing plays a big role in easy piecing. If a seam is not pressed flat, whether you press seams open or to the side, it can effect the accuracy in piecing that unit or blocks to one another. 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. Now this block will measure correctly.
Tip# 1: The most important thing I can stress is … to PRESS, do not iron. Ironing back and forth over a seam can distort it and stretch your unit or block out of shape, especially if it contains bias seams. Here’s a mini video I did on this subject:
Tip #2: Consider using a wool pressing mat to help with crisp pressing. The heat from your iron penetrates these 100% wool mats. Because of that, it works to press your unit on both sides at the same time! No flipping of your piece is needed. It also helps to reduce stretching or distorting of seams because of the cushioning provided by the mat.
So that’s it for this week! I hope these tips guide you to smooth piecing of your blocks and quilts. And helps you have fewer UFOs!