The 1/4" Seam: Quilting patterns use the standard quilter’s scant ¼” seam. This means that seams are sewn one thread’s width less than ¼”, to allow for the fold in the seam.
As the number of seams escalates, the accuracy of your scant ¼” seam will make the difference between a block that finishes the correct size, and one that doesn’t.
I highly recommend using the special ¼” seam foot that comes with your sewing machine, or can be purchased as an accessory. I have found, though, that even using the specialty foot, the seams can diverge from ¼” quite a bit. It’s worth getting to know your particular foot, and exactly where to guide it.
Check your seam: From scrap quilting fabric, cut two strips 1″ x approximately 6½”. Join them with your seam.
Cut approximately 2″ units from the pair of strips (you might want to look at the next section if you are unsure how to do this). Now join them:
After joining, the width of the unit should be 3½”. Adjust your seam until you can reliably produce the correct seam.
Stitch length: choose a stitch length of about 2.2 – 2.5mm. Too tiny and it’s too hard to unpick!
Back Stitching: There is usually no need to reverse over the beginning and end of a seam (or use a lock-off stitch), as you would in dressmaking. Seams in patchwork are oversewn later, usually perpendicular to the original seam, and then secured with quilting. Also, they don’t have to withstand the rigours of day-to-day washing, and they lie flat, without the stresses of wearing.
However, if a seam is not oversewn, it is a good idea to reverse over it at the beginning and ending: mitred corners, and set in corners are examples. I will always note if you need to reverse over a seam.
Stripping Off: If you have a lot of similar units to produce, it’s often easier to do some of the joining before the cutting! It is a fast technique for repetitive joining, used to quickly piece Four Patches and Nine Patches, or any block with rectangular or square units.
Cut strips of each fabric:
Join them along the long edge with a scant ¼” seam:
Press the seam towards the darkest fabric. Tidy the ends of the pair of strips, so that you are starting with a right angle.
Cut units across the strips:
Butting Seams: To obtain perfectly matched points and corners it is necessary to “butt” seams as you sew over them.
Press the seams together with your fingers, you will actually feel them “lock” together. If you are new to quilting, secure the two units with a pin.
Slow down, and whip the pin out just a stitch before you will sew over it. This way, you’ll avoid shrapnel from broken needles and putting your machine’s timing out.
Sewing in the direction of the arrow will “force” the seams together. The feed-dogs of the sewing machine will hold the bottom layer, and the direction of sewing will drive the top layer up against the “butted” seam.
Chain Piecing: This just means that you insert the next units to be sewn under the presser foot of your sewing machine as soon as a unit already in the machine clears the needle.
This technique has the following benefits:
* it saves time
* it saves thread
Additionally, there is no need to hold the threads behind the needle taut, as you would when starting a normal seam. Holding the threads taut prevents the fabric being caught in the feed dogs and ‘mangled’.
In fact, whenever you are sewing, especially with tiny pieces, you can use the principle of chain piecing. A good friend uses a piece of ‘waste fabric’ to begin every seam; she butts the ‘waste fabric’ against the seam, sews across the ‘waste fabric’ and directly into the seam.
Pressing: means bringing the iron directly down onto the fabric, without dragging it. Pressing is the technique used for quilt blocks, lest you distort their shape.
Ironing: is dragging the iron across the fabric in a back and forth motion.
Pressing is the technique used for quilt blocks, lest you distort their shape.Use a hot, dry iron. Steam will increase the chance of distorting the fabric.
Setting Seams: Press the seam as it was sewn:
This sinks the thread into the fabric, meaning the fabric will fold over more accurately and flatly It also assists with removing puckers.
Press Towards The Dark: There’s two reasons patchworkers advise you to ‘Press To the Dark’, ie Press the seam towards the darkest fabric.
Firstly, if a seam is pressed underneath the darker fabric, then it is less likely to show through on the right side of your block. Anyone who has made a black and white quilt will soon attest to this. In this case, even a small difference in the width of fabrics in a seam may be seen. Another reason to buy better quality fabric!
See the shadow of dark fabric behind light?
Pressing Plan: The ease with which you join the components of your blocks essentially comes down to your ‘Ironing Plan’.
1. Butting Seams.
Plan to press seams in opposite directions, so that they butt when joined. Butting seams trumps just about everything.
The convenience and neat finish afforded by butting the seams far outweighs even a thick and difficult seam.
2. Take the Easy Option
If you have a choice, it’s often easier to iron towards a fabric with no seams, from a unit with seams. Choose this option if your fabrics are unlikely to show through to the good side of your block.
Sometimes, heavily sewn seams just want to go in a certain direction; go with the flow.
Starch: Many quilters pre-wash their fabric to remove the manufacturer’s sizing and to test colour-fastness and running. If you are one of these quilters, I highly recommend starching your fabric prior to cutting it to give the fabric stability and to ensure it is straight of grain. Note: Starch you fabric right before you use it. Starching then storing fabric attracts silverfish and encourages permanent creasing.
I don’t pre-wash my fabric. I use the original sizing to give the fabric stability. With problematic fabrics, I will add additional starch before cutting: I believe it adds to the precision of your cutting and aligning. I mitigate the risk of colour run by washing the quilt after it is finished, including a couple of colour-capture sheets. It depends on your appetite for risk!
Remember to use any chemical in a well-ventilated space, and to stop using it immediately if you have any allergic reaction.
1. Use a hard pressing board, rather than a cushy ironing board. This decreases the opportunity for distortion and stretching.
2. Apply starch to the wrong side of your block or fabric. Starch on the front of the fabric often leaves a shiny mark. If you wish to apply starch to the front of the block or fabric, use an ironing cloth to protect the front of the fabric.
3. Wash your ironing board cover regularly. I find the starch burns onto the ironing board cover, and the cover builds a white residue. Washing removes this.
Measuring Up: When you measure to rotary cut, use the ‘skinny lines’ rather than the thicker ones on your ruler. The width of the line on the ruler can introduce inaccuracies, especially when you are cutting tiny pieces.
Sixteenths: Most rulers are marked with eighths of an inch, like the one above. Although you can get rulers marked to 1/16″, you DON’T need such a special ruler to make the patterns. I certainly didn’t use one. When you need to cut sixteenths, just eyeball half-way between the relevant eighths measurement: