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3 essential tips for chain piecing

by Elaine Theriault

 

How is your ¼” seam allowance? Did you test your current setting?

Today, I’m going to use the Husqvarna Viking Designer EPIC to demonstrate another very handy technique which speeds up the stitching process and helps to avoid errors.

I know these seem like basic techniques, but I’m amazed at how many people have never heard of these techniques or if they have, they don’t fully appreciate how useful they can be.

Husqvarna Viking Designer EPIC

Husqvarna Viking Designer EPIC

 

Chain piecing. Yes – it means that we’re creating a chain with our sewing. Instead of sewing one seam and breaking the thread, we’ll keep sewing seams and leave all the pieces attached until we come to the end of whatever we’re sewing.

In the photo below, you can see pieces are attached to each other as they come out the back of the presser foot.

A chain of quilt squares attached to each other as the thread has not been cut

A chain of quilt squares attached to each other as the thread has not been cut

 

And if you have a lot of pieces, you can end up with a huge stack of pieces.

A huge pile of quilt squares attached to each behind the presser foot

A huge pile of quilt squares attached to each behind the presser foot

 

1 Use an Ender/Leader to save time

This begs the question “why would you chain piece?” and “what do you do when you get to the end of your pieces?”

There are several reasons why you would want to chain piece. The first is to save time. If after each seam, you had to remove it from the sewing machine and trim the thread, this would take a few seconds per piece. If you chain piece, you can whip through a pile of seams very quickly and then snip them apart at the end. It helps to prevent twisting pieces (more on that in a minute) and it saves thread. It also keeps your workspace and the back of your work neat since you don’t have a lot of excess thread ends to deal with.

When you get to the end of your line of stitching, you can do several things. You can end the line of stitching. Trim the last threads from the last piece, then clip the pieces apart. When you start the next line of stitching, you’ll be starting fresh. Or you could use an ender/leader. This is a small piece of fabric that you sew on to keep the thread chain going. It can be a scrap of fabric, it can be pieces from another project, or it can be the small cutoffs (triangles) so you can make half square triangles. Bottom line, you don’t break the chain.

Below you can see that I’ve used a small pair of triangles as my ender/leader so that all the pieces of my project have cleared the presser foot.

Using a pair of triangles as an ender/leader

Using a pair of triangles as an ender/leader

 

I’m going to snip the chain of pieces for my project and leave the ender/leader under the presser foot. When I’m ready to start sewing again, I’ll just insert the first piece under the foot and continue the chain. This just makes it easy to get started again as there are occasions when the needle will come unthreaded – it just happens sometimes if you hit the presser foot too fast or some other mystery. I’m now in the habit of using the ender/leader, it just works and I get bonus piecing from it as well. Being consistent in your sewing really pays in achieving accuracy and saving time.

Snipped my project pieces, leaving the ender/leader under the presser foot

Snipped my project pieces, leaving the ender/leader under the presser foot

 

2 Cut your pieces apart in sections

Now here’s the thing – do NOT just cut all those pieces apart in your chain. If you were sewing four patches (like I was), I cut those pieces apart in the pairs in which they are to be pieced next.

See below – I was sewing the first set of pairs together to make the large four patch. In order to prevent them getting mixed up, I’ve snipped them apart in the pairs in which they were sewn.

The last two sections to make the four-patch are left attached to each other

The last two sections to make the four-patch are left attached to each other

 

3 Pressing is important

Please note that I had to take several photos and then realized that the photos I ended up posting are NOT from the same pair of four patches. So – look at the orientation of the pieces, but do NOT try to match up the colors. They are NOT from the same block.

Now something else that I’m a stickler for and that’s the pressing. I want all my seams to be nicely nested on the back of the work. So there’s a method to my madness to make this happen:

I lay out the two sections that will make up the finished four patch. Although the seam that I’m about to press is laid out horizontally (that’s the easiest way for me to press), that in fact is the vertical seam on the block.

The top row (in this case, the left pair) will have the seam pressed to the right (or in this orientation – UP) and the bottom row of the four patch will have the seam pressed to the left (or in this case (DOWN). I’m absolutely consistent about this and it’s super easy to do by keeping the one on the left (the top) as is and the one on the right (the bottom) gets flipped up.

Use the same orientation of your pieces to get consistently pressed seams

Use the same orientation of your pieces to get consistently pressed seams

 

I always place my seams to be pressed into a horizontal position. I just find it easier. Then I gently flip the top fabric square either up and down, depending on the direction that it’s in and it’s easy to get a nicely pressed seam with no tucks. I never press from the wrong side. Ever!

The four patch seams are pressed so the two seams will nest on the wrong side

The four patch seams are pressed so the two seams will nest on the wrong side

 

Now it’s easy to flip the right-hand side over the left (notice these two halves are still connected by that piecing thread). Because they’re connected, there’s no danger of me rotating one of them and by being consistent and flipping right on left, the seam to be sewn is always on the right-hand side. You can double check because that piecing thread that joins them should be on the right and will be embedded in the seam you are about to sew.

Right-hand side flipped onto the left-hand side and now ready to sew the seam

Right-hand side flipped onto the left-hand side and now ready to sew the seam

 

Now here’s one area where the Designer EPIC shines for chain piecing.

When I come to the end of one seam, I need to insert the next two pieces. If the presser foot is firmly on the bed of the sewing machine, it’ll be hard to get the next piece under without lifting the presser foot. This is tiresome and you might as well cut the thread between the pieces. However, with the Designer EPIC and the sensor foot, the presser foot raises up ever so slightly when the feature is engaged (along with Needle Up/Down) and inserting the next seam right up to the needle is a breeze.

This is one of my favorite features!

In this first picture, you can see that I’ve finished one seam and in the process of inserting the next one – almost so it butts to the previous one.

Inserting the next pair of squares to be sewed in the chain piecing process

Inserting the next pair of squares to be sewed in the chain piecing process

 

It’s hard to see in that photo above, but if you look at the photo below, you can see that I have my scissors (just for the purpose of demonstration) under the slightly raised foot. If my snips can fit under the foot, the next pair of squares will easily fit.

The best part – it’s all automatic. Hands-free! I love hands-free.

The presser foot raises automatically to allow the next pair of squares to be inserted next to the needle

The presser foot raises automatically to allow the next pair of squares to be inserted next to the needle

 

Here’s a couple of tips about matching seams. I’m not a pinner. Pinning takes time and they’re inaccurate. GASP! I can hear you! You’re calling me a liar! Think how many times have you pinned, only to have the pins shift as you’re sewing or you remove them before the needle passes over them and guess what? Your fabric shifts and the seams are not accurate.

What should you do? Stop pinning! The first thing I do is match up the start of the seam. Then if there are intersections along the way, I match those up as I’m sewing. There’s lots of room in front of the presser foot on the Designer EPIC to match up those seams.

In the photo below, I’ve matched up those intersecting seams and I’m holding them with my thumb. And don’t forget, the more consistent and accurate your ¼” seam allowance is, this entire process is foolproof.

Matching up intersecting seams without using pins

Matching up intersecting seams without using pins

 

I also like to use a quilter’s awl (as shown in the photo below) to hold my intersections in place. The long thin tool allows me to keep those intersections under control even as the seam passes under the presser foot.

This is the tool that I’ve been using for 20 years to get accurate points and intersections. I would be lost without it.

Using a quilter's awl to hold the matched intersections in place

Using a quilter’s awl to hold the matched intersections in place

 

As I approach the end of the seam, I ensure that the ends of the two pieces match up. No need to pin those ends, I can control them with my fingers and the awl.

I wish that everyone would give this a try and see how much faster it is to sew and how much more accurate it is. It’s interesting because I recently taught a class on improv where matching seams isn’t really a big deal and I saw a few people pinning their seams. I do use pins on long stretches where there are no seams that I can use to match (like on a border), but if I can get away without using pins – well no pins makes me very happy.

Matching up the ends of the seam and holding with my finger or the quilter's awl

Matching up the ends of the seam and holding with my finger or the quilter’s awl

 

The other thing that’s very important is to keep control of your work right up to the end of the seam. In other words, don’t get so excited to get to the end of the seam and let go as the sewing machine has other ideas than keeping the fabric straight!

Keep control of your seam until the very end

Keep control of your seam until the very end

 

One more tip – I drop the stitch length on the Designer EPIC to 2.0 from the default of 2.5. I like that stitch length a lot better and find that the seam stays together nicely even if I have to sub cut pieces.

Reduce the stitch length to 2.0 for piecing

Reduce the stitch length to 2.0 for piecing

 

While it doesn’t always work out this way, I like to sew with the seam allowances pointing down as you can see in the picture below.

There’s nothing worse than sewing a seam with all those seam allowances going in the opposite direction. It’s like a fish swimming upstream. But I do use my quilter’s awl to keep them flat if they flip up during the sewing process and I always check the back as well to make sure that those seam allowances are lying flat.

If possible, sew with those seam allowances pointing in the same direction as the seam you're sewing

If possible, sew with those seam allowances pointing in the same direction as the seam you’re sewing

 

There you have it – my best tips for accurate and fast sewing. The speed of the Husqvarna Viking Designer EPIC, along with these tips makes for some very fast projects which is perfect if you have deadlines like most of us do!

Tomorrow, I’ll be using some features on the Designer EPIC to make a small piece of art. I was in a bit of a funk and these features inspired me to create a wonderful piece of art. Check it out – I think you’ll be impressed.

Have a great day!

Ciao!

 

This is part 2 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 1: How to test to get an accurate ¼” seam allowance

Go to part 3: Sparking creativity using the Designer EPIC’s Knowledge Center

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