Quilting Basics ~ The Quarter Inch Seam & Pressing Techniques
Jacquie from Tallgrass Prairie Studios is back for part two of her Quilting Basics series (with installments every week throughout Quilting Month II!). Part one covered preparing and cutting your fabric. Learn more about Jacquie’s quilting in her Sew,Mama,Sew! Board Member intro and at Tallgrass Prairie Studios. Today’s Quilting Basics focus centers on the quarter inch seam and pressing techniques.
Enjoy today’s tips from Jacquie!
A Perfect Scant Quarter Inch Seam
Quarter inch seams are the standard in quilt piecing. Being able to piece accurately will save you lots of quilting headaches. A quarter inch seam in quilting is not really a quarter inch. It’s a scant quarter inch, a few threads less than a full ¼”. The difference is taken up by the slight fold or ridge created by the seam.
It seems like a few threads less wouldn’t make a difference, but multiply a little bit across the many seams in a quilt and it can become a problem when it’s time to put everything together. I use a ¼” foot on my machine which creates a scant ¼” seam when I run the edge of the foot along the edge of my fabric, but if you don’t have a ¼ “ foot, and even if you do, it’s a good idea to do this little test to see if you’re sewing an accurate scant quarter inch. Not all quilting involves precision piecing, but if you need to be precise, a scant ¼” seam is your friend.
Cut two 2” x 4” rectangles. Be sure to cut accurately! Sew the pieces together along the 4” side using your ¼ “ seam allowance. Press the seam (see below for pressing tips) and then measure the unit.
It should measure exactly 3 ½ “ wide. If your piece measures more or less, adjust your seam allowance. You can make adjustments by moving the needle position or by marking a new line to follow on your stitch plate. Some quilters place moleskin or tape on their stitch plates to mark their accurate ¼” seam allowance. Repeat the test until you achieve a perfect measurement.
With an accurate scant ¼ “ seam you’re ready to piece. I use cotton thread for piecing. I like to match my thread color to my fabric if possible. If not, I use a neutral thread in cream, taupe or medium grey.
I use a stitch length of 12 to 15 stitches per inch for piecing. If you find your units separating at the ends as you work with them, reduce your stitch length just a bit and that might help. As you piece keep fabric edges aligned and sew a nice straight seam. I don’t pin as I sew. If your edges stay aligned, forget the pins. If your edges tend to shift, a few pins might make a difference for you.
Don’t you love when your seams lay flat and your block is crisp and square? Proper pressing techniques can help you achieve just that! Pressing is using the weight of the iron and its heat to remove wrinkles and flatten seams. Ironing is moving the iron back and forth. Pressing is lifting the iron up and down. Pressing is for quilters!
Pressing technique is a matter of preference. Some quilters press seams to the side, some press seams open. Pressing to the side has been the standard for many years, but pressing open is gaining in popularity. I’ve been pressing open more and more lately. I love how flat my pieces lay and for me my piecing is more accurate with seams pressed open. I read this interesting article by Mabry Benson about pressing seams open. You might find it enlightening. You need to decide what works best for you.
You’ll also need to decide if you want to use steam. I tend not to as steam can cause blocks or units to distort. If I need a little help with a stubborn seam I use a tiny spritz of water or Best Press. Best press is a starch alternative and for me it works without the gunkiness of starch. You can find Best Press at most local quilt shops.
This is my pressing routine:
1. I set my seams before I press them open. This helps ’set’ the threads into the fabric and will ensure that extra fabric doesn’t get caught up in the seam. Put your sewn unit flat on your ironing board as you sewed it. Lower your iron for a few seconds and set the seam. I’ve found when pressing to the side that setting the seam helps the seam allowance flip more easily and results in a flatter seam.
2. I open my unit right sides down and do a quick finger press to open the seam and then I use my iron to press it flat, lifting and lowering the iron, not sliding back and forth.
3. For long seams I use my fingers to open the seam and work the iron down the length of the seam, pressing as I go.
4. Then I flip the unit over to press again from the right side. A couple of touches of the iron will give a nice flat seam.
Proper pressing can give you units and blocks that lay flat and are not distorted. This can make your quilt come together accurately and with less stress for you.
Next week: Matching seams and some quick piecing techniques!
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