How to get a perfect 1/4″ seam

14'-seam-tutorial

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.

Correct-Seams

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!

CLICK ON ANY PICTURE TO ENLARGE

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!

index-card-14'

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:

Index-cards

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.

Needle-on-line

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.

Measure

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.

Sewing-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.

Holding-thread

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.

Embed-stitches

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.

Finger-Press1Finger-Press2

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.

Seams-pressed-to-one-side

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.

Correct-Seams

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.

Painters-Tape-seam

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

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

  1. Cindi,
    Thank you so much for the tutorial. I have been quilting for a few years but still have trouble getting that perfect 1/4″ seam all of the time. I have a 1/4″ foot for my sewing machine and that does not always give me the perfect one either. I can’t wait to try your process.

    Have a great weekend!

  2. Thanks Cindi! I’m a beginning quilter and Peggi has helped me a lot. I have several friends that are just getting into quilting and this will be perfect for them! (me too, probably!)

  3. I’ve been quilting since the 80s and appreciate learning new things everyday. Your tip about holding the thread to the side when starting a new seam is brilliant. No more starter pieces of fabric for me. Thank you for your lesson.

  4. Thanks for the hint in fact all 1/4″ feet are not the same I will definitely try your hint and pass it onto my friends. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Thanks for these instructions!! Especially the one about holding the top and bottom threads for sewing at the edge of fabrics – that problem will finally be resolved for me!

  6. I love what you are doing. I also teach our new students this same method. I needs to done on any machine a person uses for the first time, as the needle isn’t always in the “center”. Great advise.

  7. This info was really helpful. I have only done applique type quilting but want to try blocks. Thank you, thank you.

  8. I wish I had known this 12 months ago. Thank you. Going to try to unlearn my learned mistakes. Again, thank you!!!

  9. I am fairly new at quilting. Thank you so much for teaching on how to get the perfect seam. Awesome. Thanks again. It was sew good

  10. Wow that’s what I’m talking about nicely explained, good pictures, can’t wait to try. As I’m new to quitting I need all good, easy help I can get. Thanks

  11. Hi Cindi – So I wanted to tell you I have been sewing since I was 10 – 33 years ago. But, I just started quilting and finished my second quilt last month. I wish I had read this two quilts ago! I am having to “unlearn” years of habits – like ironing vs pressing a great tip, and ironing to one side(learned why the hard way)….It will probably take me forever to give up back stiching – Giggle. But most important I will be putting blue painters tape on my machine before I even start cutting quilt 3….THANK YOU!

  12. I don’t know when I’ve been so excited to learn something new. The hubster presented me with a really nice new sewing machine for Christmas because I like art and dec sewing. I just learned so much from you in this one tutorial. Thank you so much- I’ve been ironing all my life- who knew pressing was something different? Not it my household apparently! Please keep putting these helpful posts up- I might even get something sewn with your help!

  13. Very nicely explained tutorial.
    I’m getting ready to piece my first quilt and went to do as you suggested, but my “address labels” had to be placed so far from the needle because of my bobbin case! There is a big gap between the seam guide and the foot.Also I stacked up about 5 labels but my fabric still slips right over that guide as if it were not even there! Also can’t put anything down on my bobbin case because of it’s weird shape. Ugh! My machine is a Brother CS-6000i

  14. Just now tried this tutorial and it works, i had to adjust it a couple of times and measured and it came out to . 5 inches across and 11/2 across center block!!!Yeah. i also love the way you pull the
    thread to side when you start to sew.. I am making a quilt with lots of 4 patches made with two inch blocks,the quarter inch seam has to be perfect for all to match. I know this will help, Thank you so much!!!!

  15. Pingback: (new quilter)need lots of help

  16. This was so well written even I can do this now. Sure wish I knew about the “pressing” instead of sliding. Thank you so much!

  17. You’re so welcome, Carol! Thanks for the lovely comment. It’s wonderful when we can help someone with a problem they’re having :)

  18. I am not a quilter but I make heirloom quality clothes for all the children in my life. This is SUCH a great idea and will save me a lot of grief when making French seams. I think I can also adapt for French lace sewing, which involves butting lace to lace, lace to entredeux, lace to fabric. THANK YOU!

  19. Thank you SO much for this tutorial! I’ve always wanted to quilt and have put it off for years because I wasn’t quite sure how to get started, how to get the seams measured correctly, and the best way to press the seams. Now I’m ready to get started! Thank you for the simplicity of this tutorial. You made it very easy to understand.

  20. Fabulous tutorial. TY! I have a question. I’m aware of the scant 1/4″ seam. Many patterns say 1/4″. Do I go by what the pattern says, or always 1/4″ scant? Also, to make up for the seam thread…etc., do I go “over” the 1/4″ mark, or within it (to make it scant). Thanks for your help.

  21. Sorry…I reread your tutorial. I “get it” now! lol A scant amount to the right of line gives you scant extra when you press…got it! Sorry…lol.

  22. Fabulous explanation! I wish I’d seen that when I started quilting eons ago. I’m the newsletter editor for our guild. Would it be okay if I republished it in our newsletter with, of course, credit to your website? I’m sure it would help some of our novice quilters and perhaps even some that have been hanging around with a seam ripper a little too much.

  23. This is a great tutorial! Perfect 1/4″ seams are also important if more than one person is working on a quilt. Also, I was taught to always sew from fabric onto fabric to prevent the “birds nest” so I use “bunny ears,” scraps of fabric that I sew on first and then after each part of my quilt block.

  24. I love your tutorials! I haven’t made a quilt in years and have just started up again, so your knowledge and tips are helping me tremendously! Can’t wait to share this with my friends!
    Thanks again for all that you do.

  25. I have seen this method elsewhere, but your pictures make it understandable. For a few years now I have had problems with the 12 1/2″ unfinished blocks NOT ending up 12 1/2″. It’s driven me crazy. I have a 1/4″ foot and STILL couldn’t get it right!! I tried your method and got perfect block! What was the difference you ask???? My hubby figured it out. My 1/4″ foot was BAD! The metal part splayed out to the right (as you look at it). He bent it back and now……NO problems! SHEESH! 3 yrs before I had him look at it!

    Thanks for the tutorial…..it was great!

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