Accurate Piecing and Your Quarter Inch
How is it possible to sew an accurate quarter-inch seam allowance and still have patches and units that don’t match up as they should? It’s the quilter’s eternal question, her 99-bottles-of-beer-on-the-wall refrain.
It’s frustrating to measure, cut, sew and press carefully, only to have edges that disagree like Republicans and Democrats. What happens? What goes wrong? Let’s take it apart and see.
- Focus more on the finished size of the patchwork than on the width of the seam allowance. When you sew two patches together, make sure the new unit is the size it should be. In the photo below, things look pretty good at first glance. But look again: the white extends beyond the line, which means that the unit is one or two threads too wide.
- As you join more patches and more units, continue checking that everything is coming out to the correct size. That one thread you saw above? It adds up quickly. In this photo, I’ve joined nine patches, and surprisingly, the resulting unit is nearly 1/4″ too long.
- Compare the pieced unit to what it gets sewn to. You can ease in a bit of extra but if there is too much, go back and take a deeper seam allowance (just one or two threads) in several seams until it fits perfectly.
- Fine tune your seam allowance by moving the needle position or by adjusting the position of the patchwork. Sometimes it helps to mark the sewing machine bed with painter’s tape. Create a little ledge by using several thicknesses of tape, and then run the edge of the patchwork along the ledge.
- Keep checking the accuracy of what you’re doing throughout the project and adjust as needed.
- Make a note of what you did with needle position or patchwork position so you can refer to it on the next project.
- When you move to a new project, you’ll have an idea of where to begin, but remember that variance in fabric, thread, your sewing machine and the temperature in Timbuktu may require that you readjust.
Above all, remember that the most important thing is to enjoy the process. The quilt police will not show up if your patchwork isn’t perfect. You’ll improve with practice, and in the meantime, quilt on.