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Thread: Seam Allowance

  1. #1
    ReRe's Avatar
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    Okay ... time for one of "those" questions from a baby quilter (not quite 2 years). I've read a lot about using 1/4 inch and scant 1/4 inch seam allowances and rarely have I seen 1/8 inch and 1/2 inch. My question is this .... what real difference does it make? I can see a difference in some of the more detailed patterns but if you make allowances when cutting out your fabric wouldn't a 1/2 inch seam allowance work just as well as a 1/4 inch? And what is all this about ironing to the dark side versus ironing open? Does it really matter? Once again, I can understand ironing to the dark side so you don't create a shadow but can't you just as easy iron open ... especially if you used a 1/2 inch seam allowance? I have a hard enough time keeping my seam allowance straight and 1/2 inch is much better for me than 1/4 inch. I cut the blocks for a 5 patch last night and added enough extra to allow for a 1/2 inch seam allowance. Is this another one of those "whatever works best for me" things.
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  2. #2
    Super Member LucyInTheSky's Avatar
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    When I was making blocks, every block would come out 1/4-1/2" shorter than it should've. So my 12" blocks were usually 11.5". It worked, since they were all uniform, but it was still one of those ?? moments since I didn't know what I was doing wrong. I even would cut with a tab bit extra fabric to avoid this, but yet, always short.

    What I was doing is I was using a little more than 1/4" seam. Just a thread or 2, but it added up. So what someone on here suggested was to move my needle one notch to the right. I still do everything else the same. Now my pieces are finishing the right size!

    So for 1 piece, no, it doesn't make a huge difference, but on blocks, then on a quilt, it does add up over time.

  3. #3
    Moderator kathy's Avatar
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    if you're just making things like 4 patch or 9 patch, just squares of fabric it won't matter what size you seam is as long as it's consistent, when you start usung different shapes it will be huge. I think it would be easier to learn to do it right in the beginning than to try to change an old habit later down the line, a bit of experience :oops: speaking

  4. #4
    Power Poster MadQuilter's Avatar
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    I had trouble with the 1/4" seam in the beginning too, but with practice and now, with a 1/4" foot on my machine, it is much easier. Once you start working with matching corners, particularly the triangles, you may well be cursing all the extra bulk you have. Then again, you may not. If larger seams work for you and you are happy with the outcome, you can really use your own gauge.

    Now to the ironing question. In quilting land, we actually PRESS instead of iron. Ironing implies a swirly motion that can easily distort your block. That said, if you press the dark side to the light side, there is a good chance that the dark shadow from the seam allowance will show through. This would be magnified on a large seam allowance. Again, it is your quilt and you can do as you please.

    I fought the "ironing" in the beginning too until I realized how much better/easier a properly prepped block goes together. There is a sequence to pressing some blocks that causes them to nest and it helps in the assembly. I won't iron clothes, but I can spend hours pressing my quilting pieces.

    Just have fun with it. In the beginning things may not matter as much, but as you progress, so may your personal challenge.

  5. #5
    Power Poster amma's Avatar
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    It is true that if you cut all of your pieces with a 1/2" seam allowance and sew a true 1/2" seam, your blocks will be consistent. But as MadQuilter said, some blocks have bulky seam lines with a 1/4" seam and it would be way more difficult to get them to lay flat with the extra 1/4". Now, having said that, I suppose you could trim back the seam lines in those areas after they are sewn and then press them. Some patterns, having a wider seam allowance, even pressed open will show, and it could spoil the look of the block...that 1/2" shadow, 1/4" is not nearly as noticeable.

    I usually press to the side, but there are exceptions to every rule, too LMBO On some blocks it is just easier to press a seam open when you have many seams ending in one location, like Kaleidoscopes and such.

    But it does boil down to this, it is your quilt!!! If this makes you feel more comfortable, your blocks come out consistent, and you are a happy quilter...then carry on!!! :D:D:D

  6. #6
    MNQuilter's Avatar
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    The other piece to pressing your seams to one side has to do withthe actual quilting. If you press your seams open and then decide the stitch in the ditch, you will not be sewing through any actual fabric on your blocks, only the threads. this could cause issues as your quilt is used.

    Like the other ladies said, a 1/2in seam may not be a big deal on some blocks, but on a block where you may have 6 seams intersecting, that is going to create a lot of bulk.

    The other piece is, that you would be using a lot more fabric overall on a quilt. Most patterns go one the assumption that you are using the 1/4in seam and direct you to buy fabric accordingly. If you are going to use 1/2in seams, you will need to figure in that extra fabric if you are using a pattern. Think how quickly a 1/16 of an inch adds up over just one block, then multiply that!

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by MNQuilter
    The other piece to pressing your seams to one side has to do withthe actual quilting. If you press your seams open and then decide the stitch in the ditch, you will not be sewing through any actual fabric on your blocks, only the threads. this could cause issues as your quilt is used.
    OK, I have a question about this. I'm working on a quilt now, where I joined 6" blocks together in rows, and then joined the rows together. So they would nestle, I pressed the seams opposite directions on alternating rows. Which I then realized would make it so you can't SID. I've decided to do a narrow zigzag right on the seam, but I wonder how you reconcile these two principals of quilting.

  8. #8
    MNQuilter's Avatar
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    Why can't you stitch in the ditch if the rows are alternating? I'm confused! (not an unusual state for me! :lol: ) Maybe if you post a picture, I'd get unconfused! :roll:

  9. #9
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    Because don't you need to stay on the low side of the seam? When you alternate which direction you press, the low side changes from row to row. Unless I'm doing something wrong, which of course never happens!

  10. #10
    Super Member Prism99's Avatar
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    One of the reasons seams have been traditionally pressed to one side is that, in the days of hand piecing, this made the seam stronger (less stress on the piecing thread). That isn't necessary with machine piecing.

    Many quilters, especially when making complex patterns, have found it more accurate to press seams open. As long as you are not planning to stitch-in-the-ditch right on top of the seamline, that is fine. Also, you want to be sure not to use a cheap brand of polyester batting that may "beard" through your seamline. I don't use polyester batting, so I'm not sure, but I think the newer bonding processes for this type of batting are pretty good at preventing bearding. It's the spaces between the stitches that creates bigger holes than the fabric for "bearding".

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