Quilting is my “first” sewing love, and when I started (waaay back in the early 2000s, lol), I checked out books and purchased magazines – and everything said that in order for my quilt to turn out correctly, I needed to be sewing a perfect quarter inch seam as I completed the patchwork.
But it’s also easy to make little mistakes that add up to bigger ones later!
Even after buying my quarter-inch foot for my machine (which I believe is essential), I still wasn’t sewing a perfect quarter inch seam allowance. Either I’d wind up with thread nests on the back of my pieces, or the beginning and ending point of each seam would be a little wavy and wobbly at the start or finish, as shown in the photo below:
Along the way I picked up some different suggestions and techniques from different sources about how to fix my imperfect seams. Did my quilts look bad even though my seams weren’t perfect?
…I’d say no….and I was still proud of them!
But imperfect seams can be difficult to deal with when it comes time to sew the blocks and rows together. Although we might never achieve perfection (who’s perfect?), it helps to be as close as possible.
After all, hopefully our quilts will be in our families for a long time!
Sewing a perfect quarter inch seam allowance
After purchasing your quarter inch foot (which I think is essential if you want to continue quilting), there are a few tricks that will help you achieve quarter-inch seam Nirvana.
First, to prevent the bobbin thread nests from forming on the back of your block, start sewing on a scrap piece of fabric. I should have used a different color here to differentiate, but place that scrap under your presser foot (anywhere on the scrap is fine) and start sewing (photo 1 below).
Next, feed your “real” pieces – right sides together, of course- under the presser foot, just a thread or two inside the right edge of the foot.
Because when you open your pieces and press the seam to one side, the fold takes up part of the seam allowance. When patterns say “sew a scant quarter inch,” that’s what they’re talking about (photo 2 below).
It’s okay if you have some space, and (of course) stitches between your scrap and your actual patchwork! Nothing bad will happen to your machine or the thread, and you’ll have space to trim the scrap off as you reach the end.
Also, if you have a “needle down” option on your machine, like I have on my Bernina 1260, use it! It prevents your work from shifting (photo 3 below).
As you approach the end of you patch, snip off the fabric scrap you used at the beginning, and chain it at the end, sewing over it again. This gives the feed dogs something else to grab onto, and helps prevent some of the shifting at the end of the patch (photo 4 below).
At this point, you should have solved most of your imperfections with your seam allowance.
But even with more perfection…
…(is there such a thing?)
I still have a couple of additional tips.
To prevent thread nests all together, start any seam by holding your threads as you stitch the first couple of stitches. This prevents the bobbin thread from sneaking back into the machine, eliminating any possibility of the tangled mess on the bottom.
And as you approach the end of any patch, consider using a wooden knitting needle, the pointy end of a seam turner, or another small thin wooden object to keep your fabric in place as the feed dogs pull the end of the fabric under the needle. This is especially helpful for smaller pieces of patchwork, where shifting is more obvious.
(Just make sure you move the “pointer” out of the way before the needle hits it!)
And with just these few extra precautions….
…you’ll be on your way to sewing a perfect quarter inch seam for your quilts!
Want more quilting tips? Be sure to check out this post on how to create a quilter’s knot.
Deanna McCool writes for sewmccool.com. To make sure you don’t miss a tutorial, please follow SewMcCool by e-mail (the link is at the top of the right-hand column) or join me on BlogLovin’ – the button is just below the e-mail feed box!