• Tricks To Stitch A Perfect Quarter Inch

    When I first learned to quilt I thought the seam allowance wasn't important as long as I was consistent. If my 12" finished blocks came out 11 3/4" I thought that was "good enough".

    I found that doesn't work when you are making blocks for exchange or for a raffle quilt where many quilters are piecing blocks. I decided I needed to learn to make an accurate seam allowance so all my blocks would be accurate.

    Here are a few tricks to stitch a perfect quarter inch.

    First, be sure to always cut your pieces as accurate as possible. Sometimes simply the width of a marking pencil is enough to cause inaccuracy. When using acrylic tools be sure to include the line in measuring. If you are cutting a two inch strip -- the previous cut edge of the fabric should include the two inch line in your strip.

    Purchase a special quarter inch piecing foot at your sewing machine dealer. Take some scraps of fabric and ask if you can try it out on their demonstration machines. One style might meet your needs more than another. I have a "generic" patchwork piecing foot that I prefer to the one that was supplied with my brand name computerized sewing machine.

    If you need to use a presser foot you already have and it isn't quite accurate here are some things you might try.

    Machine setting -- If your machine has settings for different needle positions, simply set your needle to the left or right so your stitching line is exactly a scant 1/4" from the edge of the presser foot. Program this into your machine memory so you can touch a button every time you turn on your machine. If your machine doesn't have a memory, write your special piecing setting on an index card or sticky note and keep it near your machine.

    Make a raised area to guide the fabric -- Place the quarter inch line of a small ruler under the presser foot with 1/4" showing at the right of the needle. Turn the hand wheel on the machine until the needle touches the 1/4" mark on the ruler. Move the ruler back and forth as necessary until the 1/4" mark is exactly below the point of the needle. Cut a piece of masking tape about two inches long and place it on the bed of the sewing machine butted up to the right of the ruler. Place additional layers of tape to build up a thickness so you have a raised area to guide the fabric accurately. The same could be done with a stack of sticky notes.

    An alternate to masking tape and sticky notes would mole foam -- a foot care product available in the pharmacy. Cut a piece about 1/4" wide and two inches long. Peel the protective paper and stick the mole foam on the machine bed next to the ruler.

    Careful pressing is also important to accurate piecing. If the pieces are not pressed carefully some inaccuracy can occur. A lot of patterns call for a scant quarter inch simply because a tiny amount of the seam allowance is taken up in the fold.

    Knotting Thread At The Beginning And End Of Machine Quilting

    Many quilting instructions tell you to bring the bobbin thread up through the quilt and stitch in place for a few stitches. Then continue to free motion or straight line quilt. When you stop to position your hands the first time, you may clip the tails at the beginning. When you come to the end of your quilting you tie off by again stitching in place to secure the stitches. You would then clip the top thread and the bobbin thread as you don't want to leave threads on the back to get tangled in your next quilting. This method takes a little longer but keeps the threads from making a little wad of knotted thread on the back of the quilt.

    Some quilters prefer to simply back stitch. Either backstitch when quilting free motion or back stitch when using the walking foot. Either way it will lock the beginning and end of the stitching. The problem with backstitching is the stitches are more visible than stitching in place.

    Some brands of the larger throat short arm quilting machines have an automatic thread cutter. If you have one of these machines you might find that it is not necessary to bring your bobbin thread to the top. You may just stitch in place to lock the stitches at the beginning and end. When you finish quilting an area you simply lock the stitches by stitching in place or back stitching and touch the thread cutter button to cut the threads and simply move to the next area of quilting.

    The method for knotting thread in machine quilting is a personal preference and each quilter needs to make her own decision concerning this. For an heirloom quilt you might want to bring the bobbin thread to the top. For a child's quilt simply backstitching may be all that is needed. Whatever method you choose it is necessary to secure the stitches at the beginning of quilting and at the end.

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    Fussy Cutting

    When I first heard the term "fussy cutting" I didn't like the name. It sounds like it is hard to do. I prefer to use the term "selective cutting". When selective cutting I am looking at my printed fabric and choosing to cut a certain patch of fabric from a certain area of the fabric. I would then cut several more from the same exact place in the fabric to be used in additional blocks.

    Purchase some of that wonderful novelty fabric, pictorial fabric, or a beautiful floral. There are so many fabrics available that would be ideal for "selective cutting". There are children's fabrics, sports fabrics, holiday fabrics, and beautiful floral fabrics. Any repeating print can be chosen.

    In selective cutting the fabric is not stacked. Each piece is cut separately using a template. Some quilters may think it takes too much time to do this but for most quilts the visual impact is so great that it is worth the small amount of extra time needed to cut the individual pieces.

    For example, you could choose a square patch to emphasize the center of your traditional block pattern such as Ohio Star. Look carefully at your feature fabric and decide to cut a square of fabric that shows a cat.

    You wish to place this cat right side up in the center patch of your chosen block. If you randomly cut a strip of this fabric and cut squares your cats would be pictured at all angles -- even upside down. In selective cutting all your pieces will be exactly alike in each block. You have twelve blocks in your quilt so you need cut 12 exact squares -- one for the center of each block.

    How to do "selective cut"

    To select an area of your fabric to cut you might want to make a "window template". A window template is simply a hole cut in a sheet of typing paper that is the exact size of the finished patch you need in your block. If your patch needed is a 6" finished size you need to cut your window exactly 6" square. Do not add seam allowance to your window template.

    Move the "window" over the fabric and see which part of the fabric you wish to selective cut. When you isolate the portion you want to use in the center of your block simply pin your window paper to the fabric.

    Make a template of clear or frosted template plastic -- add 1/4" seam allowance to all four sides. Place the plastic template over the cat motif that you chose. Center the plastic template on the cat.

    Partially trace around the cat using a pencil or dry erase marker or any marker that writes on template plastic. You need to mark your template with registration marks on the first cat motif. Then remove your window template.

    Trace around the outside edge of template with a metallic gel pen or other fabric marker. Lift template and cut out your square. If you prefer you may carefully cut around the template with a rotary cutter. Remove your template and line it up on the exact same cat motif in another part of your fabric -- using the marks on the template for reference. In this way you will cut all fabric squares exactly the same. Continue in this method until you have cut all twelve of your cat motifs.

    One drawback of selective cutting is some pieces may be on the bias rather than on the straight or cross grain. If the selective cut pieces are placed in the center area of the block it is simply a matter of dealing with the bias edges when piecing the block. When the entire block is finished the pieces on the edge will be on straight or cross grain.

    When your quilt is finished you will have the same cat or other selection in the same portion of each quilt block. Quilts with areas that are "selective cut" always have a visual impact.
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