Hi quilters! This week, I want to cover all the things that go into accurate piecing. You would be surprised what can contribute to your unit or block not measuring accurately when you are finished piecing. That is the most frustrating thing after you have worked really hard on it! I have also received a request from a reader to cover how to get an accurate 1/4″ seam if you don’t have a 1/4″ foot for your machine. So let’s get started with all the tips I think are important for accuracy.
Tip #1 – Cutting Your Pieces
Yes, you saw that right. Accurate piecing starts with accurate cutting! I you are cutting a lot of strips for a project and they all need to be the same width, my first recommendation is to use the same ruler or rulers from the same company. I like 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 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 2 1/4″.
See how that bright line of tape makes it easier to find your mark? Also, painter’s tape will not leave any residue on your ruler. We all know how expensive fabric is… so keeping cutting mistakes to a minimum is a good thing.
Finally, make sure you are using your rotary cutter correctly to get an accurate strip. The photos below illustrate the difference. If you hold it wrong like in the photo on the left, you will end up with a strip not measuring correctly. And you may also have a cutting accident.
Tip #2 – Always Pin!
I know you are tempted to stitch together two small pieces without using pins. However, it’s important to pin to keep the fabric pieces from shifting. 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 won’t be accurate.
Even if you are chain piecing, it only takes a few seconds to line up raw edges and quickly pin pieces. It’s better than having to “un-sew” a whole stack of units!
Tip #3 – Use an Accurate 1/4″ Seam Allowance
This is an important step in accurate piecing. I recommend a 1/4″ quilting foot for your machine, like mine below:
If you have this foot, it’s still a good idea to test it. To do this, 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.
If it measures correctly, great! If it does not OR you do not have a 1/4″ foot, you can actually use markings on your machine’s throat plate or use tape to mark where you should line up your piece for a 1/4″ seam. The following steps will show how to do this.
Throat Plate Option: Check to see if your machine’s throat plate has a 1/4″ mark like mine (below left). To use this marking, you line up the edge of your fabric with the 1/4″ mark when stitching. After the seam is stitched, measure it like I showed above to determine accuracy.
Measuring & Taping Option: If you have no markings on your throat plate, here are the steps for measuring with a tape measure and marking with a piece of painter’s tape on your machine to indicate the 1/4″ point. Start by laying the measuring tape under your needle at the “0” line.
This will also help you to measure if the marking on your throat plate is accurate if you have one. (See my little white arrow in the photo above.) Lower the needle by hand to make sure the needle matches up with the “0” line. Then, find the 1/4″ line on the measuring tape. Use this as a guide to place a piece of tape (or determine the accuracy of the mark) on your throat plate.
When stitching a seam, you can now line up the edge of your fabric with the edge of the tape to give you an accurate 1/4″ seam. Once again, use scrap fabric to test your seam. Hopefully by following one of these tips above, you will get an accurate seam.
Tip #4 – Measure, Measure, Measure!
Now that you are stitching with an accurate seam, the final step in having your blocks measure accurately is to measure each unit as you stitch it to make sure it’s the correct size before continuing. For example, if I am making several flying geese units for a block and they need to measure 2 x 3 1/2″ for the block to come out the correct size, I measure all the geese units for the block (like below). That way, when I am ready to piece the block, I know all the geese units measure accurately. That, along with accurate 1/4″ seams guarantee my blocks will be the right size!
So that’s it! These are what I think are the most important tips to help you piece your units or blocks so they measure the size they should be. If you start by cutting your pieces accurately and then use an accurate 1/4″ seam while stitching them, you are guaranteed to get accurate sized units. Because of that, your blocks and ultimately your quilt will go together smoothly! No headaches matching up seams or creating the intended design.
Comment or ask questions about accurate piecing and I will enter you into a drawing for my pattern, Twinkle Twinkle:
This pattern will give you a lot of practice with accurate piecing with all of those flying geese units that make up the stars and borders! The drawing will be on Monday, August 9th.
Regina Bohannon says
Thanks, as always, for your great tips!
You do an excellent job of explaining & using photos. Thanks for the tips.
Nanette Chopin Cook says
You always give great advise to the younger quilters. Great post!
Vickie Stidham says
Does steam on a finished pieces block distort the block too much? Would you recommend no steam at all?
I do not use steam. I use Best Press if I need a little help in keeping the seam pressed. I think you could use steam as long as you just press and not iron back and forth.
Diane Potter says
The blue tape on the ruler is something I will try the next time I have to cut many same sized strips.
Thanks for the tips. I always tell new quilters to press not iron, doing a demo doing both they see how the press pieced keeps it shape.
Angelia Ulrich says
Thank you. I enjoy your tips. I need to be a more accurate piecer & I like using everyday items in my sewing!
Lisa Alden says
I would never have thought to use painters tape! Absolutely brilliant idea!
Great tips! Thanks for sharing.
I always tell others to measure using the ruler, not gridlines on the cutting mat. I also prefer starching my fabric prior to cutting to get nice “crispy” cuts. At times when things just don’t line up, I “block” prior to squaring up😉
Janet T says
Thanks for the great tips! I especially like the mark on the machine for the 1/4 inch alignment. I think mine is a cutout inside the bobbin casing. I am going to find my tape measure and check it out. Funny, I never noticed it before.
Thanks for the great tips! I’m also a big fan of pinning. 😊
Cathy Weatherford says
Such an important step in piecing. A great post. And I really like the creative grids rulers the best. Thanks
Thanks for the tips
Robin McGuire says
Great tips! Thank you!
Connie Gunther says
Use of the same brand rulers is a great suggestion! Mixing different brand rulers can produce tiny variations that can make a big difference!
Janice Vavra says
The tip on straightening the fabric prior to cutting is something I need to be more mindful of. Thanks!