Tag Archives: Tutorial

Accurate Piecing — That 1/4″ Seam

Intricate piecing can be beautiful, but every extra patch means an extra seam, and every extra seam means another opportunity for errors in sizing.

Consider the border I’m working on now. It’s just 24 half-square triangles that finish at 2″. The length of border should finish at 48″. Each of the 24 HST has only one seam. And there are 23 seams attaching the HST to each other to create the border. That’s 47 seams in total. Now, only consider the vertical seams attaching them to create the border length. If each seam allowance is off by 1/16″, that’s not much, right? But 1/16″ x 23 seams is 1 7/16″, or almost 1.5″. That doesn’t even include the error potential when making the HST.

So much for potential error. Here is the real thing. Here are two halves of one border strip. They really do have the same number of HST.

20170205_182507

Each part is supposed to measure 24.5″, unfinished. The first one I made (top) is slightly short, so I adjusted the seam allowances so the bottom strip would be slightly longer. Oooops! It’s more than a half inch longer. Now I need to fix it by making a few seams wider, to take up the extra fabric.

Everyone faces the question sometimes of how to make a block or border fit. When I was a beginning quilter, I usually made block quilts. My seam allowances were usually too big, which meant my blocks were too small. I learned a lot of ways to improve my seam allowance, and a lot of ways to fake it or fix it. Here are a few.

PREPPING YOUR FABRIC
It starts when you prep your fabric. Some people prefer to use washed fabric and some don’t. I strongly prefer washed, for multiple reasons. Either way, soon you will cut fabric, and before cutting, you need to press it. (Yes, you really do need to press it.) 

I press carefully with a hot steam iron, because cutting is more accurate on flat fabric. Many people recommend starching fabric to stiffen it. I do now and then, especially if I’m working with a cotton that’s flimsier than usual, but it isn’t part of my standard practice.

CUTTING
When’s the last time you changed your rotary cutter blade? If your cutter blade is dull, it will drag the fabric rather than slice through it. You may need to cut through parts multiple times, risking moving your ruler slightly. A sharp blade will give you better cuts with less force. A bonus is that sharp blades are less dangerous, too!

My cutting surface is a comfortable height for me to use while standing. It’s a plastic-topped, folding “buffet” table, the type that can be found at most discount stores. It is much too low by itself, but I have it raised with PVC pipes slipped over the legs. The pipes are cut to raise the table about 5 inches. Other people find that bed risers work well to raise their table. The extra height helps with comfort, but it also helps with precision, because I’m not bent so far over my work.

I stand with my shoulder directly lined up with the line of cutting, so my arm moves straight forward, not at an angle. This helps keep the blade moving in the right direction, so I don’t accidentally push the ruler offline.

Lighting is another element. Enough light, in front and above you, makes your work easier and more precise. Besides the overhead light, I have LED utility light strips on either side of the room where I cut.

As I was learning to quilt, two cutting strategies led to big improvements in my piecing. First, cutting along the selvage provides more accurate strips as compared to cutting across the width of fabric (WOF.) The grain is more stable and doesn’t shift as much when piecing. Besides that, you won’t need to worry about whether the fabric was cut from the bolt on grain. (It rarely is, which requires adjustment if cutting WOF. In addition, you may lose significant yardage when squaring up for cutting WOF.) If the selvage is gone, you can tell which direction is “with” the grain by which one has less stretch when you tug it.

Cutting along the selvage is especially important when cutting border strips. You’re much less likely to have waves and flares when attaching the border. (Of course, this also requires measuring the border length accurately, and pinning the strip in place before stitching.)

Second, don’t try to cut through more than four layers of fabric at a time. More layers are harder to cut through, requiring more force from you and increasing the opportunity to shift your ruler with the movement of the blade.

Finally, measure twice, cut once. Make sure the ruler lines are parallel to the lines on the mat (if using them) or lined up exactly with the edge of the fabric. Too often I’ve cut on a line crossing from 1/8″ to 1/4″, or that type of thing.

STITCHING
When you take precisely cut pieces to the sewing machine, how can you get good seam allowances? Again, ergonomics, or your comfort, plays into it. If you can, use a desk chair with adjustable height. You need to be able to see and reach your workspace easily to have good control.

Pins: sure, they take time. Time to put them in, time to take them out… they seem like a hassle. I rarely pin small units. But when I assemble bigger blocks I usually use them. And when I sew long lines, such as rows of blocks or borders, I pin a lot, every couple of inches. (Twice as many pins do not take twice as long to set or pull.) Thin pins are best, as they don’t distort the fabric and are easier for your machine to cross if you don’t pull them first. Pins also allow you to ease in the fabric without making little darts when the two pieces don’t match up exactly right.

I use a 1/4″ foot to make my seam allowances better. It has a little “fence” to guide my fabric edge. Still I need to know whether to nudge my fabric against the fence or leave a thread width away from it. Some machines have adjustable needle positions, but not all 1/4″ feet can accommodate a change in position. If not, you still need to be in charge.

If you don’t have a 1/4″ foot, there are a lot of sources for tips (here and here, for example) in getting a better seam allowance.

A key strategy to avoid my problem above is to check sizing regularly. Because my HST finish at 2″, each pair of HST should finish at 4″. A set of four of them should finish at 8″. If I had checked my piecing before stitching all the units together, I could have adjusted my seam allowances before creating the whole strip.

PRESSING
And no, you’re not done yet! Pressing a stitched unit or block is the last part of the puzzle. As with fabric prep, when you press units, use an up and down motion, rather than dragging the iron across. Most sources recommend pressing toward the darker fabric. Sometimes this is practical and sometimes not. You can find more tips for pressing here and here.

As you can see, there are a lot of different elements that play into piecing accuracy, not just your time at the machine. Little changes can add up to a lot!

FIXING IT OR FAKING IT
What choices do you have when your piecing isn’t as good as you’d like? It depends on your need for perfection. One option you can always choose is to add some if the border or block is too small, or cut some off if it is too large. This “wonky” or “liberated” style is historically traditional and works great for some styles of quilts.

I am no perfectionist, but I do like things to be “pretty good.” For me that means fixing some and fudging some.

Fixing generally requires re-doing at least some seams. For my strips above, I want to shorten the longer one about a quarter inch. I will re-stitch four or five seams with a little wider seam allowance. If my strip were too short, I’d take out a few seams and re-stitch with a narrower seam allowance.

Fudging is possible in a lot of cases. If you’re trying to attach a border and the length is off by 1/4″, or even 1/2″, go ahead and pin a lot to ease the extra fabric in. If my border is too long, I also might “adjust” at each end. I pin about 1/8″ of border beyond each side of the quilt center. This gives me another 1/4″ I don’t need to ease in, and the loss is barely visible. If my border is too short, I can adjust it the other way.

Similarly, you often can trim edges of blocks or borders, and no one will know but you. Some blocks are easier than others. If your flying geese are too large, make sure the “beak” side has a nice seam allowance to preserve the point. Trimming the other edges won’t be very noticeable.

Remember, once the project has been quilted, many of these small errors disappear into the dimpling of the surface.

And it’s always good to remember, you might be your own harshest critic. If you wouldn’t scold a friend for her piecing mistakes, why would you scold yourself? If it’s important to you, try a few ideas above to improve your accuracy. If it’s not, just keep having fun and enjoy the process!

Another New Christmas Stocking!

When I was a kid, the Christmas stocking was a feature of our family holiday celebration. My mom, an incredibly creative woman, made our stockings, decorating each differently. We all knew the stocking itself was a manifestation of her love for us. Besides that, the nuts, fruit, and candy in the stockings were a relatively large part of our presents. Last but not least, we were allowed to open our stockings immediately, because Santa filled them!

When our son was born, it was important to me that he have a stocking, too. I didn’t have the creative skills of my mom, so I bought one for him, which he still uses when at our home. On his first Christmas, Santa brought him one present, a small stuffed Curious George doll that fit just right into the top of that stocking. I’ll never forget the look of wonder on my son’s face when he locked eyes with the little monkey.

Last winter I made our son a new Christmas stocking, since he was far away. This year I made one for his girlfriend.

I wanted to keep with traditional colors, with fabric from my stash. However, I don’t stash Christmas fabrics, so I chose a mottled wine red for the stocking, and plaid for the cuff. The backing is a plain white muslin. Cotton batting makes it soft and pliable.

First I quilted the fabric with my long-arm. Because the fabric is plain, I wanted to make the quilting a little fancier. After looking at a couple of my books for inspiration, I decided to draw flowers and leaves with the thread.

20161210_112041

Here is the finished stocking.

20161217_185538_resized

The other photos and instructions below are for Son’s stocking from last year. The pattern and process I used are all the same.

After quilting, I traced around my pattern. The pattern was drawn using the stocking he got as a baby, and it has a seam allowance included of approximately 1/2″.
20151208_164350_resized

I drew and cut out two. Remember you need two sides to the stocking, and the foot needs to face both ways.
20151208_164726_resized

To keep the edges corralled, I stitched quickly around the edges of each part separately. Then I pinned them, right sides together. Using my walking foot, I stitched around, leaving the top open.
20151208_165734_resized

Then next step was to create a cuff. I decided how deep I wanted it (4.5″), doubled that (9″), and added an inch (10″). The inch was the seam allowance for both edges that would attach to the top edge of the stocking. I cut the piece 10″ deep. I also needed to know how long to make it. Honesty: this was a bit of fudging. What worked fine was using the width of the finished stocking, doubling it, and adding something like  1 1/4″. Because the cuff needs to fit around the stocking, you need a little extra leeway. Then I sewed my cuff along the 10″ edges, right sides together, to make a tube. The seam allowance here is probably a fat 1/4″. As I said, I fudged a little.
20151208_175618_resized

I turned the cuff and folded it to make a tube half as deep, with right side of fabric on the outside. I pressed the fold edge all the way around. Then I tucked a piece of batting into the folded tube to give the cuff a little poof. You could skip that if you prefer.

With the stocking turned inside out, I pinned the cuff to open edge of the INSIDE of the stocking.
20151208_181114_resized

Again using my walking foot, I stitched the cuff down around the top edge, back-stitching at the beginning and end to secure. Once turned right-side out, the cuff lies nicely around the top. Finally, I used a piece of grosgrain ribbon to create a loop, attaching it with zigzag stitching.

Here is the finished stocking, featuring Son’s first Christmas present from Santa. Next to it on the right is his original stocking, which served as the model.
20151209_120726

Four Flying Geese, Three French Hens, Two …

[I published this in April when I was making lots of geese. Well, I’m at the geese stage again! Since I needed to remind myself of the four-at-a-time method, I thought I’d remind you, too. Cheers!]

Fooled ya, huh? It’s actually “four calling birds…” The geese don’t come in until later, when there are six geese a-laying…

One of the reasons I love flying geese blocks is they can be made almost any size. Blocks that are on grid are less adaptable for sizes. For example, regular 9-patches are on a 3-grid (3 rows by 3 columns) and are most easily made in sizes that multiply easily by 3, such as 6″ finish with 2″ patches, or 7.5″ finish with 2.5″ patches. For a harder one, bear’s paws are on a 7-grid, so are most easily made in sizes like 7″, 10.5″, or 14″. But geese are ungridded. The flying geese I need finish at 8.25″ in length. That’s a weird size, but easy to make. (Half-square triangles and hourglass blocks also can be made any size.) 

There are a variety of ways to make geese, but I only use two of them. One is the stitch-and-flip method. With this, the base (goose) is cut the size of the finished block, plus 1/2″ each direction for seam allowances. For example, if you want a block that finishes at 3″ x 6″, cut the base as 3.5″ x 6.5″. The background (sky) is cut as two squares, both half the length of the finished block, plus seam allowances. Using the same size block, cut two pieces that are 3.5″ square. Pat Sloan shows how to put these together to make a perfectly sized flying geese unit.

The method works great. However, you do have waste triangles of fabric cut off. Some people make good use of them and convert them into half-square triangles for other purposes. I do not. For small flying geese, throwing away the waste doesn’t bother me much. For larger ones, it does.

The other method I use is the four-at-a-time method. Why choose this one? The process allows more efficient use of fabric, because there are no waste triangles. For me, the disadvantage is I have to be more careful of my seam allowance. To adjust for that, I check sizing on the first set I make. If I need to trim slightly, that means I need to use a slightly bigger seam allowance, perhaps only a thread width bigger. Even so, it’s a great way to make a lot of geese quickly and with no waste.

Here is a video that clearly explains the process, as well as a link to another set of instructions from Connecting Threads.

For each FOUR geese units, use 1 large square and 4 small squares.
Large square = finished length of unit + 1.25″
Small square = finished width of unit + .875″ (that is 7/8″)

Example: for four flying geese units finishing at 3″ x 6″, cut 1 large square (the geese) at 7 1/4″, or 7.25″. Cut 4 small squares (the sky) at 3 7/8″, or 3.875″.

Draw a diagonal line across the wrong side of each small square, corner to corner. Arrange two of them right sides together in diagonally opposite corners of the large square, with the drawn lines meeting in the middle. The small squares will overlap a little. Pin them in place.

FG 1
Stitch from corner to corner, a scant 1/4″ away from the drawn line. Then turn around and stitch the other direction on the other side of the drawn line.

Cut on the drawn line between the two stitching lines. The video shows using the rotary cutter and ruler, but scissors work fine.

FG 3
Press toward the sky squares. You end up with two pieces shaped sort of like a heart.

FG 4

On each of those pieces, pin another of the small squares with the drawn line running from the corner through the “cleavage” of the heart. Sew 1/4″ from both sides of the drawn line, as you did before. Cut apart on the drawn line, and press toward the sky triangles.

FG 5

What is the difference in fabric used for the two methods? I needed 32 flying geese units with finished measure 4.125″ x 8.25″. To make FOUR units this size:
Stitch-and-flip requires 4 (units) x 4.625″ x 8.75″ = 161.875 square inches of the base fabric, and
4 (units) x 2 (per unit) x 4.625″ x 4.625″ = 171.125 square inches of the sky fabric.

Four-at-a-time requires 9.5″ x 9.5″ = 90.25 square inches of the base fabric, and
4 x 5″ x 5″ = 100 square inches of the sky fabric.

For this size example, stitch-and-flip requires almost twice as much of each fabric, compared to the four-at-a-time method. For 32 of them, that’s almost a half yard difference for each fabric. I don’t always have that much more fabric available. Note that different sizes of flying geese will have different outcomes on this calculation, because of the proportion of the seam allowance compared to the rest of the unit.

One more alternative is to create the effect of flying geese using half-square triangles. Instead of 32 flying geese, I could have used 64 half-square triangles. I chose not to do this because I wanted the toile of the base fabric unseamed.

Do you use flying geese in your quilts? Do you have a favorite way of making them? Questions or comments?

Four Flying Geese, Three French Hens, Two …

Fooled ya, huh? It’s actually “four calling birds…” The geese don’t come in until later, when there are six geese a-laying…

One of the reasons I love flying geese blocks is they can be made almost any size. Blocks that are on grid are less adaptable for sizes. For example, regular 9-patches are on a 3-grid (3 rows by 3 columns) and are most easily made in sizes that multiply easily by 3, such as 6″ finish with 2″ patches, or 7.5″ finish with 2.5″ patches. For a harder one, bear’s paws are on a 7-grid, so are most easily made in sizes like 7″, 10.5″, or 14″. But geese are ungridded. The flying geese I need finish at 8.25″ in length. That’s a weird size, but easy to make. (Half-square triangles and hourglass blocks also can be made any size.) 

There are a variety of ways to make geese, but I only use two of them. One is the stitch-and-flip method. With this, the base (goose) is cut the size of the finished block, plus 1/2″ each direction for seam allowances. For example, if you want a block that finishes at 3″ x 6″, cut the base as 3.5″ x 6.5″. The background (sky) is cut as two squares, both half the length of the finished block, plus seam allowances. Using the same size block, cut two pieces that are 3.5″ square. Pat Sloan shows how to put these together to make a perfectly sized flying geese unit.

The method works great. However, you do have waste triangles of fabric cut off. Some people make good use of them and convert them into half-square triangles for other purposes. I do not. For small flying geese, throwing away the waste doesn’t bother me much. For larger ones, it does.

The other method I use is the four-at-a-time method. Why choose this one? The process allows more efficient use of fabric, because there are no waste triangles. For me, the disadvantage is I have to be more careful of my seam allowance. To adjust for that, I check sizing on the first set I make. If I need to trim slightly, that means I need to use a slightly bigger seam allowance, perhaps only a thread width bigger. Even so, it’s a great way to make a lot of geese quickly and with no waste.

Here is a video that clearly explains the process, as well as a link to another set of instructions from Connecting Threads.

For each FOUR geese units, use 1 large square and 4 small squares.
Large square = finished length of unit + 1.25″
Small square = finished width of unit + .875″ (that is 7/8″)

Example: for four flying geese units finishing at 3″ x 6″, cut 1 large square (the geese) at 7 1/4″, or 7.25″. Cut 4 small squares (the sky) at 3 7/8″, or 3.875″.

Draw a diagonal line across the wrong side of each small square, corner to corner. Arrange two of them right sides together in diagonally opposite corners of the large square, with the drawn lines meeting in the middle. The small squares will overlap a little. Pin them in place.

FG 1
Stitch from corner to corner, a scant 1/4″ away from the drawn line. Then turn around and stitch the other direction on the other side of the drawn line.

Cut on the drawn line between the two stitching lines. The video shows using the rotary cutter and ruler, but scissors work fine.

FG 3
Press toward the sky squares. You end up with two pieces shaped sort of like a heart.

FG 4

On each of those pieces, pin another of the small squares with the drawn line running from the corner through the “cleavage” of the heart. Sew 1/4″ from both sides of the drawn line, as you did before. Cut apart on the drawn line, and press toward the sky triangles.

FG 5

What is the difference in fabric used for the two methods? I needed 32 flying geese units with finished measure 4.125″ x 8.25″. To make FOUR units this size:
Stitch-and-flip requires 4 (units) x 4.625″ x 8.75″ = 161.875 square inches of the base fabric, and
4 (units) x 2 (per unit) x 4.625″ x 4.625″ = 171.125 square inches of the sky fabric.

Four-at-a-time requires 9.5″ x 9.5″ = 90.25 square inches of the base fabric, and
4 x 5″ x 5″ = 100 square inches of the sky fabric.

For this size example, stitch-and-flip requires almost twice as much of each fabric, compared to the four-at-a-time method. For 32 of them, that’s almost a half yard difference for each fabric. I don’t always have that much more fabric available. Note that different sizes of flying geese will have different outcomes on this calculation, because of the proportion of the seam allowance compared to the rest of the unit.

One more alternative is to create the effect of flying geese using half-square triangles. Instead of 32 flying geese, I could have used 64 half-square triangles. I chose not to do this because I wanted the toile of the base fabric unseamed.

Do you use flying geese in your quilts? Do you have a favorite way of making them? Questions or comments?

A New Christmas Stocking

Our son lives far away and won’t be here for Christmas. However, he will still need a Christmas stocking. I’m not ready to send off the one he grew up with, so I made  a new one for him.

I chose fabric from my stash. The foot of the stocking is bright red, with whimsical instruments drawn in white. I used this fabric a few years ago as an accent in a quilt made for Son’s best friend. (They were in high school band together. Dan played trumpet (and soccer!) and Son played sax.) The cuff is from a Christmas print, one of the very few I have in stash. The backing is a plain white muslin. The batting was a scrap of some low-loft, low-density polyester, and it gives it just enough padding.

First I quilted the fabric with my long-arm. It’s probably just as easy to use your DSM, or even buy pre-quilted fabric if you find one you like.

Then I traced around my pattern, drawn using the stocking he got as a baby. The pattern has a seam allowance included. It isn’t very exact but for approximation’s sake, let’s say the seam allowance is 1/2″.
20151208_164350_resized

I drew and cut out two. Remember you need two sides to the stocking, and the foot needs to face both ways.
20151208_164726_resized

To keep the edges corralled, I stitched quickly around the edges of each part separately. Then I pinned them, right sides together. Using my walking foot, I stitched around, leaving the top open.
20151208_165734_resized

Then next step was to create a cuff. I decided how deep I wanted it (4.5″), doubled that (9″), and added an inch (10″). The inch was the seam allowance for both edges that would attach to the top edge of the stocking. I cut the piece 10″ deep. I also needed to know how long to make it. Honesty: this was a bit of fudging. What worked fine was using the width of the finished stocking, doubling it, and adding something like 3/4″. Because the cuff needs to fit around the stocking, you need a little extra leeway. Then I sewed my cuff along the 10″ edges, right sides together, to make a tube. The seam allowance here is probably a fat 1/4″. As I said, I fudged a little.
20151208_175618_resized

I turned the cuff and folded it to make a tube half as deep, with right side of fabric on the outside. I pressed the fold edge all the way around. Then I tucked a piece of batting into the folded tube to give the cuff a little poof. You could skip that if you prefer.

With the stocking turned inside out, I pinned the cuff to open edge of the INSIDE of the stocking.
20151208_181114_resized

Again using my walking foot, I stitched the cuff down around the top edge, back-stitching at the beginning and end to secure. Once turned right-side out, the cuff lies nicely around the top. Finally, I used a piece of grosgrain ribbon to create a loop, attaching it with zigzag stitching.

Here is the finished stocking, featuring Son’s first Christmas present from Santa. Next to it on the right is his original stocking, which served as the model.
20151209_120726