How to get a perfect 1/4″ seam


This, to me, is the most important aspect of making a quilt. If you don’t have a perfect 1/4″ seam, all of your measurements will be off. If you’re making a quilt from a pattern, your pieces will not line up correctly. Not a good thing!! You need perfect seams for good quilting.


I have several friends and family who are just beginning to quilt. I want them to start out correctly, and help them avoid a few of the mistakes that ended up in my “learning curve”, so I will be doing a few beginner tutorials for them, and anyone else out there who may need some guidance! (Disclaimer: This is how I do these things. There are many ways out there to quilt. These worked for me.) I will try to spell it out completely – with some general quilting hints along the way – as best I can.

Many quilters now have the option of getting a 1/4″ seam foot for their sewing machines. It’s a great investment, and if you get hooked on quilting,  you may want to get one down the road. It really takes the frustration out of sewing those seams, prevents endless “frogging” (ripping out stitches – rip-it, rip-it….get it?), and many trips to the refrigerator for beer or martini’s to calm one’s frazzled nerves. This tutorial is for those of you just starting to see if you enjoy quilting before making bigger investments!


First off, you’re going to need an index card, a stack of 6 Post-It© notes, and a few scraps of fabric, each cut exactly 2″ wide. Length doesn’t matter. I suggest 2 x 4″ pieces. Yep, that’s all you need. This isn’t rocket science and we don’t need no stinkin’ calculator or math teacher. An index card has nearly perfectly spaced 1/4″ lines!


Start by counting in two lines up from the bottom of the index card, and cutting directly ON that line, about 2/3 of the way up from the bottom of the card. Cut across, and take out that piece. You’ll end up with a card that looks like this:


Place this card under the needle in your machine. Now here’s where you need to read before you continue. It would seem easy enough – wouldn’t it? – to place that needle right on that 1/4″ mark and be on your way. Nope, probably not gonna work.


Here’s what happens if we use that blue line. IT WON’T BE AN EXACT 1/4″ SEAMLINE. Why? Because there are variables. First off, remember that I said these index card lines were nearly perfect? It means just that. There will be a little tweaking. Second, quilters actually use what is called a “scant” 1/4-inch seamline. You see, when you sew your line and open your fabric to press it, the thread and the fold actually take fabric away from the total seamline measurement. So you have to adjust your machine for that missing amount.

Trust me, all of this information IS important. It will make a difference in your quilting. I learned the hard way that it’s much easier to do it right the first time!

So, what we’re going to do instead is put the needle just to the right of that blue line that runs along the cut on the index card. Barely to the right. Use the hash marks on the top of your sewing machine to make sure the card is straight. (You know, where the 1/2″, 5/8″ lines are that you normally follow):

Do this!

We’re going to place the Post-It© notes along the first line of 1/4″ marks, measuring all the way down to make sure it’s an even 1/4″ away from that cut line. Put the sticky side of the Post-It© straight down that first line. Measure the middle and bottom to make sure they’re exactly 1/4″ away from that cut line.


Remove the index card. Now we’re going check for accuracy. Take three of your 2-inch fabric strips. Sew two strips together, butting your fabric against that sticky note line. Do not backstitch at the beginning or the end. Backstitching is not done in quilting (although some do) as it adds to the bulk of the seam.


HELPFUL HINT:  To avoid “bird nests”, or that big, knotted lump of thread that seems to form on the underside of your fabric when you start stitching, do this: Simply hold the top and bottom threads off to side, holding them down with your finger as you begin to sew. This allows you to start sewing right at the edge of the fabric.


Add the third strip to the second strip in the same manner, giving you a three-strip block (as shown in the very first picture).

Take your fabric to the ironing board. This next step is important for all the newbie quilters: PRESS THE SEAM FLAT BEFORE OPENING THE FABRIC. This “sets” the thread into the fabric. It imbeds the thread into the seamline and makes pressing it open much easier. This is also a step many quilters follow (including me) for perfectly flat seams.


Next, finger press the seams open, putting all the fabric to one side. This helps keep the fabric from stretching when you press it, as you’re “creasing” the seamline. The seam fabric is normally pressed towards the side with the darkest fabric.


Press the seams with the iron. Notice I said “press” not “iron”. “Ironing” is moving back and forth in long strokes. “Pressing” is gently laying the iron over the seam, and gently moving it down the seam, lifting the iron up-and-down. If you “iron” that block it’ll warp like a CD in a hot car. Bad. Very bad.


Note to newbies: There are two schools of thought about pressing seams open. Some (like me) always press seams to one side. Others press seams open, as you do when sewing clothing. It is purely a preference thing. For me, seams pressed to one side make it much easier to butt rows of blocks together. It is believed that seams pressed to one side are stronger. Try both and see which you prefer.

Now, measure your block. It should be EXACTLY 5-inches across. The center block should be EXACTLY 1-1/2-inches across.


Perfect! Good job! If, for some reason, you’re off a bit, go back and adjust your line again. But you should be pretty darn close. Of course, “close” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

You can also use three layers of painters tape to mark your sewing line. This is how I used to do it. This way I was able to easily able change my bobbin and access the storage case in the front of my machine. Plus, it stays put better than the sticky notes.


I hope this helps you find your perfect seam line. If you have any questions, let me know!



103 thoughts on “How to get a perfect 1/4″ seam

  1. This is a great tutorial. Even though I have been quilting for years, I still refer to this test which keeps me on track. Excellent of you to share with such a precise tutorial.

    • Glad you like the tutorial, Diane. Isn’t it funny how you think you can “set it once and done”, but it never seems to work out that way? I check my seam allowance with every quilt, because you just never know!

  2. Pressing seems open does make the seam weaker if you’re going to do stitch in the ditch when you quilting. it tends to break the thread and that’s not a good thing. You may end up with a gape or a hole in the middle of your quilt. the only time you should press the seam open is if absolutely unavoidable but for everything else they should be pressed to one side
    Great tute! I’ll be using this one

  3. How do you do it if you don’t have a sewing machine? I have to make a quilt for school but I know nothing about quilting or sewing.

    • There are many blogs that teach hand-sewing. Google “How to hand sew” and you’ll find tons of lessons! Or take a class from your local quilt shop or Joann’s.

    • There are times I do hand quilting; like when I’m traveling. You can mark your quarter inch seam with temporary marker, there are many to choose from. If it is a small piece of fabric you can line it up on the index card and use your ruler or straight edge as a guide to run your mark or do it on a cutting mat. Great Tuturial! So easy to understand.

    • Some local towns have women in senior citizens buildings or church groups that are avid quilters and have rooms set aside to do once a week quilting sessions.They are always anxious to welcome new comers into their circle of Quilters. Check these local places in your home town – you’ll be pleased at the new friends youlll meet and wonderful advice you’ll get from seasoned quilters! They will be pleased to welcome your new ideas as well, possibly having sewing machines and supplies to use and share!

  4. Great tutorial for beginners. Will definitely show it to my grandchildren who are wanting to learn…and anyone else. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I’m new to quilting and I’ve been reading every article about quilting I can get my hands on. This is the best I’ve read on making sure you have a one forth seam. Thank you so much. Your pictures, your explanation is so easy to follow. Your much appreciated.

  6. Thank you so much for this easy to follow, step by step guide, that has an actual
    fabric test at the end! I am a very new quilter and have struggled getting things to
    line up. This looks like just the help I needed!

  7. this would have to be the simplest, most comprehensive and easy to follow instruction on 1/4″ seams, and why they are so important. Thank you.

  8. I use a strip of moleskin from the first aid box. It’s a little thicker than your painters tape and really soft on your skin should you brush up against it. Great directions.

  9. Great directions! I’ve only made two quilts and three wall hanging so far. I did purchase the 1/4″ seam allowance foot however, if I loose that foot or just need to use the regular foot on a project I now know what to do. This method makes perfect since! I’ll have to set my machine up this way so I can do this. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Tara, I highly suggest you check the seam allowance even WITH that seam allowance foot. I’ve got one, too, and still had to adjust my needle! It wasn’t a true scant 1/4″!

  10. I like your name! I have not heard of very many other Cindi’s spelled like mine. Anyway, I’m a new quilter and I will be trying your idea for for the perfect 1/4 inch seam.

  11. THANKS!! I have made quite a few quilts and have learned just by trial and error- but that ironing tip. ! I never put that together with some weird blocks- especially when making a log cabin quilted table runner. THANK YOU!! and thank Google and pintrest for links to sites like yours

  12. Thanks – particularly for showing how to get the correct measurement from the needle/foot area to the end of the machine bed and then to the extension table. In the past, my tape has always veered off to one side or the other. Then I would feed the fabric into the machine at an angle, which doesn’t work well. 🙂

  13. Thanks for showing how to get tape lined up perfectly from the needle/foot area to the end of the machine bed and then to the extension table. In the past, my tape has been at a bit of an angle. This resulted in my feeding the fabric into the machine at an angle and did not work out well.

  14. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!! I am about ready to piece together my very first quilt, and I am SO GLAD that I came across your post prior to sewing!!! You have given such detailed instruction which will be so easy for me to follow!! I can hardly wait to complete my first quilt. Thanks again Cindi!!!

  15. I am a new quilter with a very old machine. I so appreciate this wonderful tutorial…thank you! My sister has a nice, new machine and she told me that her 1/4″ foot isn’t true on the scant side, so she needs this information, too.

  16. I save the brightly colored wide rubber bands that come around some produce and I simply slip the rubber band over the sewing plate area. Position to your exact spot and sew away. Works for me and is easily adjusted.

  17. Tthank you for all the great info!! I have had trouble with my seams. I have been a seamstress since I was 9, so my inclination is to sew 5/8. I had a very hard time adjusting to 1/4inch. I have taught myself to quilt so the info about the thread was also welcome. Next I will be taking a beginners course to improve. I like bright and beautiful and applique. I will let you know how I get along!!

  18. Great info. Been sewing since I was eight but my grandmother taught me some quilting along with sewing skills. Even though I still have to check my seams. This is much easier than the method I use. Thank you so much.

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  20. Wonderful directions. If someone hasn’t already mentioned it, this should be done with every machine you use because us quilters have been known to have a couple or 6 or?

  21. Great tutorial! I don’t quilt but I am an experienced in making clothes and other sewing crafts. I love when tutorials explain the “why” when doing things. It makes it very easy to take bits of different techniques and apply them elsewhere.

  22. Cindi thank you so much!! This article was so helpful! I’m sharing it with others immediately! I loved your knowledge and wit!

  23. Thank you so much. I just finished my 2nd quilt and could not fathom why the block – which were cut perfectly – ended up different sizes. Now I know and will do this. Thanks for the other tips as well!!!

  24. I’ve very recently started patchwork and quilting and was used to using metric measurements. I then found my machine is obsolete (it’s an Elna) and in spite of extensive searches on the Internet and emails to various suppliers I cannot source a 1/4″ foot or a walking foot. So when I saw this trick to measure on my machine I thought I’d cracked it but no – because the feed dogs are in the way. So it seems the only solution is to buy a new machine which seems crazy.

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  26. Thank you so much. I have been sewing for years and can do 5/8 seams good, quilting, I’ve only been doing about a year. My points don’t match nor do my seams. I was ready to put it all out In the trash. I decided it is my seams. So, I’m not throwing it out. I will keep trying. Thanks for the tutorial.

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