10 tips for sewing a variety of quilt seams

Welcome back! How did yesterday go? Did you get any part of your space tidied up? We’ve got a marathon to run and you had best get prepped.

I’m taking the Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q with me on my marathon. I’ve got my five bobbins wound. I’ve got some projects lined up and I’m ready to sew.

Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q

Let’s just get this out in the open. I told you to clean off those surfaces yesterday – the cutting table, the ironing board, and the sewing table. For the most part, those surfaces in my studio are pretty clean a good part of the time. But I have another set of work tables and this is what they look like.

In an ideal world, this mess would be tamed. But it’s not. I’m trying to limit myself on starting anything new or pulling something out of the closet. I keep thinking how nice it would be if I didn’t have to move anything off these tables in order for people to come and sew.

From the time that this picture was taken and today, there’s been a huge change in that mess. I’ve sorted out projects, some of which I’ve prepped and will be working on during my sewing marathon. But seriously – how can one work with this kind of mess on every surface? It’s impossible. If you don’t have plans to work on a specific project – then I suggest getting some boxes and neatly pack it away (labeled of course).

The cleaner the workspace, the more conducive it’ll be to work. And if you have a great sewing machine like the Opal 690Q just sitting there? Well, that’s a huge waste. We need to be sewing all the time and making good use of our tools.

A common sight in a quilter’s studio – the dreaded “before” picture

I thought we’d have a look at some different types of seams that you’d run into when piecing a quilt top, as well as some general tips for a more productive day.

1. Hold those threads

When you start to sew something, hold those thread(s). If you use the Scissors Function, you shouldn’t have a bobbin thread to hold, but you’ll have a top thread. Hold that thread as you start to sew. If you don’t, it’ll create a huge nest of thread underneath your work. Looks ugly and messy. Alternatively, you start sewing on a scrap of fabric and then chain piece into your project.

Since we’re putting in the time on our project and we’ve got a great sewing machine to work with, we might as well make the projects as neat and beautiful as they can be.

Hold the threads when you’re starting a new line of stitching

2. Border control

If you’re adding borders to a quilt, do yourself a favor and measure through the center of the quilt. Use that measurement to cut the borders.

In other words, the two side borders should be the same length and the top and bottom borders should also be the same length as each other. Why? If you just start to sew a border strip onto your quilt, there’s a very good chance that the two borders will not end up being the same length. One side of the quilt may have stretched a wee bit more than the other and it’s a given that the sides have stretched more than the middle has. All this ends up giving the borders a bit of a wavy edge, especially if there is more than one border on the quilt.

In the photo below, you can see I’m using those work tables (I told you they looked a lot better from when that first picture was taken) to lay out my border strips. I’m using my measuring tape to assist in cutting both side borders to the same length.

Doing this helps to ensure the quilt will be straight with 90-degree corners. This is a critical step to ensuring your quilt hangs straight and flat. 

Using a measuring tape to cut borders to fit a quilt

Now that those border strips are the same length, they may not fit perfectly to your quilt. This is where pinning comes in. I don’t pin anything when I piece a block. But I pin my borders ALWAYS.

It’s not a good idea to run over the pins when sewing. Pin from the side with the head of the pin sticking out making the pin easy to grab and remove as you sew.

To correctly pin a border, match the center of the border to the center of the quilt and pin the centers together. Then match up the ends of the quilt to the ends of the border. Pin and ease in the quilt top or the border so they fit.

Place your pins with the head of the pin facing out to make the removal of the pin easier.

3. Guide your work

You MUST always be holding and guiding your work. You do NOT need to push and pull (unless you’re going over a lot of bulk and then sometimes the machine may need a little bit of help), but under normal sewing conditions, you should just be guiding. I actually guide the pieces with both hands. The left hand sits near the needle and guides the fabric and deals with the bulk on the left, while my right hand is lining up the two edges of the fabric. I NEVER sew without at least one hand on the work.

It’s quite common for people to get near the end of a seam and let go of what they’re sewing as they reach for the next piece. You’re asking for trouble when you do this as the seam allowance will go wonky. Don’t do it! Just like you wouldn’t take your hands off the steering wheel just because you reached your driveway.

You can see that I’m using the edge of the Quilter’s ¼” Piecing Foot as the guide for my seam allowance. It’s a snap to get an accurate seam allowance.

Use both hands to guide the work. No need to push and pull.

4. Chain piece where possible

Rather than break the thread, I’ve used one of my ender/leader pieces to keep the chain (of the thread) going. I’ll insert the next project piece right up to the needle once my triangles have cleared the needle.

Having the Sensor Foot and the Needle Up/Down function on the Opal 690Q makes chain piecing a snap. I stop sewing, the presser foot raises ever so slightly and I can place the next piece right against the needle. You can go quite fast with this feature and still get seams that are beautifully lined up at the beginning and end of each seam. A small thing but a HUGE difference in the quality of work.

Using an ender/leader at the end of the seam to not break the thread

5. Use a neutral color of thread

Remember yesterday I chatted about the color of thread I use? It’s a light gray. Can you see any light gray in this seam? Nope – the tension is so perfect on the Opal 690Q (and no adjusting was necessary). Over the years, I’ve seen students struggle with the tensions on their machines. If you don’t understand the tension, then you should learn a bit more about it.

Take some time one day and play with the tension – start at the tightest tension (9.8) and work your way down to zero tension. See what happens with the underside of the stitch and also what it looks like on the top. Once you understand this concept, you’ll be able to sew anything.

None of the gray thread used to stitch this seam shows on the front of the work

6. Using the stitch plate as the seam guide

For whatever reason, I like to make the seam allowance on my quilt backings wider than ¼”. If the seam is right in the center of the backing, that seam can take a lot of abuse when the quilt is folded since most quilts get folded in the middle.

Make sure that you cut off the selvages of the backing pieces you’re going to sew. It’s never a good idea to use selvages in your quilting work. The weave on them is significantly tighter than the rest of the fabric and it used to secure the fabric as it goes through the manufacturing process. It was not meant to be used in our projects.

In the photo below, you can see that my seam allowance is much wider than what I would use for piecing blocks. I’m simply using one of the guidelines on the stitch plate. The stitch plate has a lot of markings, so it’s that easy to get a wider and consistent seam allowance.

Using the lines on the stitch plate as a guide to sew a wider seam

7. The power of color

I’m digressing from the sewing machine for a wee moment. I wanted to prep this project because there’s something I want to share with you from a piecing perspective. First, I had to choose a fabric and thought I’d share the process with you.

These are some blocks I made many years ago. Some wonky stars. Now it’s time to get them sewn together into a quilt.

There’s a white sashing running between all the blocks, but I wanted to have a small dark frame around each of the blocks before I sewed the sashing in. I know, nothing like complicating matters when you’re trying to clean up a project.

I’m a very visual person and the best way to choose fabric is to place the blocks on a design wall and audition the choices.

Wonky star blocks

I went through my stash and picked some fabrics I thought might work. I placed the fabrics under several of the blocks to help me choose the fabric I liked best for the frame. I find it easier to have all the options up to start with and then one by one, they get eliminated.

Some options for the dark frame around the wonky star blocks.

I like the elimination process as I think most of us do. It just seems to be easier to pick out the options we don’t like and hopefully we’re left with the option we like.

I didn’t like this one although I like the brightness of the blue, it just doesn’t seem to work. Too mottled?

Blue fabric that is too mottled for the frame?

Black is too stark for the bright blocks.

Hey – I thought I’d try a dot. It’s not bad, but that dot has an old-fashioned feel and doesn’t suit the brightness of the fabrics in the blocks.

Blue dot fabric has a different style to it than the saturated colors in the wonky star block.

While I like this one, it blends in too much with some of the fabrics in the blocks.

This one is PERFECT. A deep navy with a little bit of a lighter, brighter blue. The only problem? I don’t have enough. But it got me searching somewhere else and I did find the perfect fabric.

A perfect fit for the block frame – a dark blue with just a touch of lighter blue.

I found the Midnight (number 9020-494) from Northcott’s Toscana collection was very similar. I know the color doesn’t look right in this photo, but the blocks look amazing with that fabric as the frame.

Northcott’s Toscana 9020-494 Midnight is the perfect match for the wonky star block frame.

8. Match up the ends of your seams

The same way that it’s important to measure those borders, it’s important that the framing you add to blocks be the same length. These blocks have all been squared to 9½”. Still, if I were to just sew strips of fabric to the blocks and cut off the excess, my blocks would not be the correct size when I’m finished. They likely wouldn’t be the same size either. I’m cutting the frames to the exact measurement and pin them (with my fingers). Guaranteed, the blocks will all be the same size when I’m done.

“Pin” the ends of the seam with your fingers.

You want to be careful when sewing these very narrow strips (cut 1″). Any deviation on the seam allowance will make that narrow strip look crooked.

I worked on two blocks at a time and chain pieced them. This minimized the time to sew them and the number of threads to clip off. These are just good sewing practices. 

9. Curved seams

The double wedding ring quilt with its curved seams is a challenge to sew as you cannot chain piece this version.

Each and every seam has to be stopped and started, you cannot sew through the end of the seam allowance. It’s easy to use the FIX function on the Opal 690Q to anchor the beginning and end of the seams. These blocks have been sewn on multiple machines with the end result being pretty much perfect. Why? That Quilter’s ¼” Presser Foot made the sewing easy as I used the foot as my guide, not a setting on the sewing machine. I didn’t need an expensive, generic curved piecing foot.

For curved seams, I match up the center points, place one pin to hold the two centers together. Then carefully start at the beginning. See how I use the quilter’s awl to control the two edges of the seam. This kind of seam is so easy – it’s just fiddly because you have to stop and start at the beginning and end of each seam.

Using the quilter’s awl to keep the two curved edges together.

It’s a challenge to sew this seam as I need to get into that tight area and start where the previous line of stitching ended.

10. Seams on flannel quilts

One other seam I’m working on is one for a flannel quilt. I’m still using a ¼” seam allowance. The flannel I’m using is good quality and because it was cut with a sharp rotary cutter blade, there’s minimal fraying.

But I might want to change the stitch length to 2.5 rather than 2.0. The fabrics are thicker and the shorter stitch length is not as good for the flannel. I’ll use the Exclusive Sewing Advisor to set the fabric weight to Medium. That automatically changes the stitch length to 2.5 and adjusts the tension.

Because of the thicker fabrics, the Sensor Foot and the Needle Up/Down function are so helpful. The two fabrics can be pushed right up to the needle so there’s less chance that the top one will shift down.

The thicker fabrics also mean I’ll likely have to adjust where I hold the edges of my fabric relative to the edge of the Quilter’s ¼” Piecing Foot. The thicker fabric means there will be more fabric “lost” when the seam allowance is pressed to one side. A slightly smaller seam allowance will be required. I’ll simply position the edges of the seams a little bit to the left of the edge of the foot.

The Sensor Foot makes it easy to push the next pieces to sew right against the needle

The Exclusive Sewing Advisor makes all the necessary changes when the weight of the fabric is changed.

The Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q made easy work of all those different types of seams. I’ll be working on these projects in my sewing marathon this week and I’ll be back on at the end of the week to share the results with you.

Tomorrow, I’ll touch base on some very important quilting tips. Make sure you stay tuned for that.

Have a great day!


This is part 2 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 1: 7 excellent tips for a productive sewing marathon

Go to part 3: 7 tips to speed up the quilting process

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Margaret Graczyk September 5, 2018 - 8:48 pm
Thought you might like a particular name for those scraps of "leaders & enders". ;) I like to call them "spiders" as that is what they look like after a few passes through the machine. My youngest granddaughter disagrees and likes to call them "centipedes". Either way, it certainly takes care of those garbled "starts and ends" of chain piecing and also prevents the sewing machine from "eating" your fabric as it catches under the plate.
Janet T August 11, 2018 - 12:21 am
Great tips! I have a Sapphire that has the Sewing advisor feature. I keep forgetting to use it. I will have to look in the book and see how it's done.
Elaine Theriault August 11, 2018 - 6:28 am
Janet -- OH - you must do yourself a favor and READ your users' Guide. There are so many features of your Sapphire that make sewing a breeze. Don't forget to check out the blog posts where I reviewed the Sapphire specifically. Search for Sapphire on the QUILTsocial website. Thanks for following QUILTsocial. Elaine
Vickie August 9, 2018 - 8:32 pm
Such useful tips here and other places as I have looked around today. And, followed you on Pinterest etc. This Opal machine would be a dream. I am using my moms old singer. And, learning to quilt now..beginner quilter. Excited to be so.
Elaine Theriault August 10, 2018 - 6:25 am
Vickie. Welcome to the wonderful world of quilting. Make sure to follow the QUILTsocial posts as there are loads of projects and tips that will help you as you learn. And yes - that Opal is an EXCELLENT machine for a quilter whether you're new or experienced. Have fun! Elaine
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