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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
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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
    Power Poster 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".

  11. #11
    MNQuilter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by King's Daughter
    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!
    but if you are stitching in the ditch you are stitching right over the seams, not beside them. So the way I'm picturing it, it shouldn't matter if your excess fabric is facing "up" or "down." I do also alternate seams so that they nestle when sewing blocks together and usually stitch in the ditch. I do also hand quilt so don't know if it makes a difference to quilt it with the machine. (too chicken to try that yet! :oops: )

  12. #12
    Super Member Oklahoma Suzie's Avatar
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    I have a 1/4 in foot on my machine, it works great.

  13. #13
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    That was very informative, Loretta. I too, wondered what difference it would make as long as all seams were a consistant width.

  14. #14
    Super Member Tiffany's Avatar
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    Talk about opening a can of worms. LOL! :lol:

    I wouldn't want to use a 1/2-inch seam because of the bulk. It becomes an issue when quilting and I do a lot of hand quilting. Because most patterns, esp. the complex ones, are set up for a 1/4" seam, you may find you have to redraft a lot of patterns and the ones that it really matters on are those patterns that use lots of points. I typically rarely use a 1/8-inch seam because if there is any fraying of the fabric at all then I loose what little seam allowance I have and that means the quilt is likely to come apart if someone sits on it, cuddles with it, or washes it a lot. I know a lot of us had issues with the 1/4-inch seam when we first started but you will quickly get used to it and it won't seem so strange. Plus, using a 1/2-inch seam line means you will end up loosing a lot of fabric in the seams, especially if you make a large quilt like a queen size. With the price of fabric today, I just can't do it!

    I learned from a national instructor that I highly respect (Beverly Hindman, who is known for her hand applique & piecing) teaches that unless the block is smaller than 3-inches, you press your seams to one side or the other. I worry less about whether it is pressed toward the light or dark, though I press to the dark if it doesn't matter. I'm more concerned with ease of piecing & block construction and if that means I need to press my seams to the light side of the fabric, I do so. However, a neat little trick to help with any shadowing issues is to trim the dark fabric in the seam just a smidge so that it isn't even with the light fabric. This sounds like it wouldn't work but it really can help get rid of any shadowing.

    Hope this helps.

  15. #15
    Super Member janRN's Avatar
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    I'm a self-taught quilter which means I did what was easiest at the time. My first book actually called for 1/2" seam allowances. (This was in the dark ages--1975 I think!!) As I've quilted more and instruction books consistently called for 1/4" seams I've had to "unlearn" a lot. Try to "learn right" from the beginning. The more you do something, the more it becomes a habit--good or bad. As with anything new, practice practice practice. But practice the correct way.
    Again, it's your quilt and the quilt police aren't watching.
    I hope this made sense--I just wanted to help you learn from my experience ( or inexperience at the time)
    Good luck and keep on quiltin'-

  16. #16
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    Thank you everyone for all the advice. What I think I will try is sewing my 1/2" seam and then trimming it down to 1/4" AND I promise to work on sewing a 1/4" seam allowance.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by ReRe
    Thank you everyone for all the advice. What I think I will try is sewing my 1/2" seam and then trimming it down to 1/4" AND I promise to work on sewing a 1/4" seam allowance.
    Do you have a 1/4 inch foot for your machine? That is the most important foot for me. I use it so much. I, too had issues sewing 1/4 inch seam consistently but since I got my new machine and bought that foot, it's a piece of cake. They make them for all machines. Get one and I guarantee you won't be sorry.

  18. #18
    Super Member Tiffany's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JCL in FL
    Quote Originally Posted by ReRe
    Thank you everyone for all the advice. What I think I will try is sewing my 1/2" seam and then trimming it down to 1/4" AND I promise to work on sewing a 1/4" seam allowance.
    Do you have a 1/4 inch foot for your machine? That is the most important foot for me. I use it so much. I, too had issues sewing 1/4 inch seam consistently but since I got my new machine and bought that foot, it's a piece of cake. They make them for all machines. Get one and I guarantee you won't be sorry.
    I agree, I could live without mine but I sure wouldn't want too!

  19. #19
    ReRe's Avatar
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    I am lucky. There is no need for me to go out and buy a special foot to get a 1/4 inch seam allowance. I have measured mine every which way to Sunday and it sews a consistant 1/4 inch seam as long as I keep the needle set in the right spot. Thank heavens for a Brother!

  20. #20
    Super Member weezie's Avatar
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    I invariably have problems with machine feet that have little metal guide bars on them, including my 1/4" foot. My favorite machine foot has indicators on it (both right and left); I use those as guides and always get an accurate 1/4" seam allowance.

    Recently I did a quilt for a toddler. It was comprized of 25 11-1/2" blocks (with a ME design centered in each). I cut the sashing 2" wide and with 1/2" seams, the allowances butted up against each other exactly. Everything fit together very snug with no unwelcome seam allowance "lumps" or "vacancies". It is my opinion that ... if it is feasible depending on the quilt pattern ... the wider seam allowances on a small child's quilt give it an extra bit of sturdiness for what is likely to be a really active lifestyle for the quilt.

  21. #21
    Super Member Scissor Queen's Avatar
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    One of the biggest reason 1/4 inch seams are used is the amount of additional fabric it would take over a whole queen size quilt. That extra quarter inch would probably add up to more than a yard of fabric on a queen size quilt.

    Ironing seams to one side was done to keep the batting inside. Originally "batting" wasn't really batting. It was just hand fulls of carded cotton laid on the backing. That's also why really old quilts are heavily quilted.

    Hand quilted quilts aren't quilted in the ditch as a rule either. They're quilted a quarter of an inch away from the ditch. In the ditch quilting was invented to hide machine quilting. Machine quilting was looked down upon until the last 15 years or so but it's been around for more than 100 years.

  22. #22
    Power Poster MadQuilter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by King's Daughter
    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!
    That just makes it easier. I use alternating seam press for nesting purposes, and I SID. Actually, I have a SID foot that keeps the guide in the ditch - no matter where the seam bulk is. You may just have to go a little slower when your seam line is a little wobbly,

  23. #23
    Junior Member Betty K's Avatar
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    The most critical reasons for using 1/4" seam allowance is if you have triangular pieces coming together or small pieces like in a stained glass pattern and especially if you're going to hand quilt.

  24. #24
    Senior Member newestnana's Avatar
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    I am also a relative newbie to quilting...and it took me a while to understand the importance of pressing the seams in the direction given in the instructions (yes, usually to the dark side, but which side is "dark" could vary with your choices of fabric). A few of the above comments mention the "nestling" of seams--so that corners match up--and that is SOOOO much easier when the seams are pressed in the correct (according to instructions) direction. So now I actually read that part of the instructions and am amazed at how much easier it has become to have more precise piecing.

  25. #25
    Super Member b.zang's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scissor Queen
    One of the biggest reason 1/4 inch seams are used is the amount of additional fabric it would take over a whole queen size quilt. That extra quarter inch would probably add up to more than a yard of fabric on a queen size quilt.

    Ironing seams to one side was done to keep the batting inside. Originally "batting" wasn't really batting. It was just hand fulls of carded cotton laid on the backing. That's also why really old quilts are heavily quilted.

    Hand quilted quilts aren't quilted in the ditch as a rule either. They're quilted a quarter of an inch away from the ditch. In the ditch quilting was invented to hide machine quilting. Machine quilting was looked down upon until the last 15 years or so but it's been around for more than 100 years.
    Hey, a snapshot of quilting history! Thank you - this is interesting.

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