Machine piecing depends on sewing exact 1/4" seam allowances. Some machines have a presser foot that is the proper width, or a 1/4" foot is available.
To check the width of a machine’s presser foot, sew a sample seam with the raw fabric edges aligned with the right machine’s presser foot. Measure the seam allowance using graph paper with a 1/4" grid or a quilting ruler.
Another way to check your seam allowance is to cut three 1-1/2"-wide strips of contrasting fabric. Sew two of the strips together, using a 1/4" seam allowance. Join the third strip, again using a 1/4" seam allowance. Press the seam allowances away from the center strip. On the right side of the fabric, measure the width of the center strip. It should measure 1".
If your center strip does not measure 1" wide, you did not sew a 1/4" seam. Repeat until you get a 1"-wide center strip. Retest your seam guide from time to time.
If your quilt has many fabrics, use a neutral color, such as gray or beige, for both the top and bobbin threads throughout the quilt. Using two different threads, one on top and one in the bobbin, can help you to better match your thread color to your fabrics.
Sewing-Machine Troubleshooting Tips
While it’s a good idea to take your machine to a dealer regularly for a tune-up, here are a few fixes for common problems.
Bad stitch quality. Before making any other adjustment, lift the machine’s presser foot and rethread the machine.
Skipping or uneven stitches. Try replacing the needle with a new one. Although some quilters only change a needle when it breaks, a smarter rule of thumb is to insert a fresh needle at the start of every project.
Thread breaking. If you’re using old thread, try a new spool; old thread can become brittle and lose elasticity.
Joining Pieces, Blocks and Rows
Precise 1/4" seams allow you to join units, blocks, and rows with ease. Use exact 1/4" seam allowances throughout a quilt’s construction. With the number of seams in a quilt top, little variances can quickly multiply.
It isn’t necessary to backstitch at the beginning of any seam that will be intersected by another seam later in the quilt making process. Use a stitch length of 10 to 12 stitches per inch (2.0- to 2.5-mm setting) to prevent the stitches from unraveling before they’re stitched over again. Secure seams that won’t be sewn across again (such as those in borders) with a few backstitches..
On the sewing machine, squares and triangles in blocks should be sewn together from edge to edge. Save time and thread by chain piecing whenever possible. To chain-piece, feed the pieces under the machine needle. Don’t lift the foot or clip the thread. Short lengths of thread will link the stitched patches. Cut them apart when you’ve finished sewing the units.
Pinning Is the Secret
When you want the seam lines in patchwork pieces to line up perfectly, first pin the pieces together with extra-fine pins. With right sides together, pin one piece to another unit, aligning raw edges. Match seams by pushing a pin through both layers to check alignment.
Match up seams of pieced units and place a pin diagonally through the pieces, catching both seam allowances.
To prevent damage to your machine or injury to yourself, avoid sewing over pins. When you’re sewing together long strips without seams, there’s no need to pin before assembling.
Press For Success
In quilting, almost every seam needs to be pressed before the piece is sewn to another. Pressing the seams ensures accurate piecing. The direction you press is important in piecing and usually will be specified in the instructions. When in doubt, press both seam allowances toward the darker fabric.
You'll usually press the entire seam allowance to one side rather than open. When two seams will be joined, press the seam allowances in opposite directions; this helps line up seams perfectly and reduces bulk.
Press seam allowances in each row in opposite directions so they abut when rows are joined. Press, don’t iron: Don’t know the difference? Ironing involves moving the iron while it is in contact with the fabric; this stretches and distorts seams. Pressing means lifting the iron off the surface of the fabric and putting it back down in another location.
Setting a seam: Before pressing a seam open or to one side, press the seam as it was sewn, without opening up the fabric pieces. This helps sink the stitches into the fabric, leaving you with a less bulky seam allowance.
Test Your Skills
Test your piecing skills with these favorite American Patchwork and Quilting patterns!
Quilt Designer: Marti Michell
Quilt Name: Christmas Mosaic, American Patchwork & Quilting, December 1994
Christmas Mosaic is a great quilt to help you learn to precisely piece points. You can practice chain piecing, too, because many of the units are half-square triangles. Make it in your favorite seasonal fabric.
Quilt Designer: Kris Kerrigan
Quilt Name: Party Stripes, Quilts and More, Spring 2007
A great project for testing your seam allowances, this attention-getting throw uses simple strip piecing and bright fabrics for a totally different look to reproduction fabrics.
Quilt Collector: Heidi Kaisand
Quilt Name: King Solomon’s Temple, American Patchwork & Quilting, February 1996
A bit more challenging, King Solomon’s Temple uses two fabrics. An accurate seam allowance and good pressing skills will make this quilt a royal statement on your bed!