All quilters started somewhere and I can remember looking at quilts in awe and asking myself how on earth a person can consistently align corner to corner and point after point to form the perfect pattern. In my quest to conquer this perfection, I have learned the following lessons:
The first and probably most important lesson I had to learn was to slow down. I have finally realized that there is no way to keep control of your sewing at 100km / h. Slow down and enjoy the process. I can add to this point, to be careful not to over-commit when making a quilt. Working against an impossible deadline doesn’t help accurate piecing.
Pre-wash or not?
There are many pros and con’s to the pre-washing of fabric. Personally, I pre-wash fabrics before using them. The best reasons are to make sure the colors don’t run and to get rid of the starch used in the weaving process. I tumble dry it to damp and then spread it out on a flat surface to dry completely. I don’t iron it at this stage, as the fabric will probably be ironed a couple of times before I finish the quilt. Drying it in this way relaxes the fibers and it is easier to find the straight grain to cut on. Every quilter can relate to a story that includes colors that “ran”. If you are in doubt, wash your fabrics with color catchers to absorb the excess dye.
Cutting accurately is the first step of accurate piecing. Make sure, very sure of the measurements that you are to cut. Measure twice. Cut in a space with adequate lighting. Cut with a sharp rotary blade on a cutting mat. Use a ruler that you can easily see the edge of the fabric through. Hold the ruler securely in place with a flat hand on the surface. Cut from near to far. Close the rotary blade when you are finished.
Find your quarter
Quarter-inch seams are synonymous with quilting, but have you really found that quarter-inch yet? The easiest way to test whether you have found the quarter is to cut 3 two and a half-inch strips. Sew them together and press lightly. Does the center strip measure a perfect two inches? Does it vary?
At this stage, it might be interesting to look at the way you align your fabric on your sewing machine. You can use a quarter-inch pressure foot and line the fabric up on the side of the foot. I personally use a general pressure foot and move my needle position to the right. In this way, the feed dogs under the fabric line up with the pressure foot with full contact and gives the fabric more stability. It definitely produces more even seams.
Another way to line up your fabric is by attaching a piece of insulation tape to mark the help your alignment. Some machines also have magnetic alignment tools that keep your fabric aligned. It is worthwhile to spend some time to find the sweet spot where you hit the perfect quarter every time.
You may find patterns and instructions that talk of a scant quarter. A scant quarter is just a little (1 or 2 threads) less than a quarter inch. You will find that sewing on the bias for half-square triangles and quarter-square triangles, a scant quarter will work better than a quarter-inch seam. It also gives a little extra fabric to resize the unit. In a complex pattern, sewing with a scant quarter seam can help for the same reason.
Finding the spot X
When you sew sharp points on a star or any other triangle, it is simple to find yourself in a position where there is not enough seam allowance on the outer side of the point, leading you to chop off the sharp point. In a pattern where you need to make a Y seam, there are many ways to create bubbles, knots, and chops if you aren’t careful.
All these problems can be prevented if you know where the X Spot is Every corner that you sew, has a point where the two quarter-inch lines cross. This is not a quarter inch from the tip. If you mark this spot on each corner and sew from corner to corner, you will end up with a quarter-inch seam allowance. It is therefore worth the time and effort to measure and mark this spot when sewing tricky corners.
Pressing is another part of piecing that is often overlooked. Press on the stitched line to set the seam, before opening the patches. Press the seam to the dark side. Quilters are normally split 50/50 on whether to use steam or not. Smaller seams can be finger-pressed or pressed with a small wooden tool or Hera marker. When you have pressed, the fabric should lie down and not bounce back. Take care not to distort the fabric in the pressing process.
Size after every step
The last step to accurate piecing is to cut the patches to the correct size before the next step. Make sure that you know what the size must be, including the seam allowances. This lays the groundwork for the next layer to the block and quilt. A patch unit will not grow in size between processes, however hard you try. It is easier to accept the inevitable earlier in the process.
Finally, it is important to remember to embrace the process, enjoy the time that you spend with your fabrics and that every quilter will piece to the level of their own satisfaction. It is, after all, the journey that matters. Be kind to yourself. Happy quilting!