FREE Quilting Patterns, Tutorials, Magazine

7 tips for sewing accurate seams

 

The week just seemed to fly by. I hope the post from yesterday has cleared up when and how to anchor your quilt seams. And I’m thrilled that I found a solution for my foot pedal!

Today, I’m using the Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q to show you how to sew an accurate seam that is well pressed, with beautifully matched points and ends that meet.

 

Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q
Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q

 

Presser feet

Let’s start by chatting about the presser feet. There are numerous styles of presser feet available for sewing a ¼” seam. When I first started to quilt, the one that I used is on the far left in the photo below. It had a handy flange on the side that is used as a guide for the fabric. There’s a large opening in the foot, so you were able to move the needle to the exact position that you needed to get the correct seam allowance.

 

Various ¼" presser feet for the Opal 690Q
Various ¼” presser feet for the Opal 690Q

 

As I began to sew on various models of the Husqvarna Viking sewing machines, I wanted to be able to transfer projects between machines and be confident that the ¼” seam allowance was consistent. I was looking for a foot that didn’t require me to move the needle.

The presser foot, second from the right, came out and that appeared to be a good solution, although it had some issues with the foot being too narrow to engage with the feed dogs and caused the fabric to shift a bit. And so the presser foot second from the left came out.

I tried it. I was leery at first because by now, I’d been sewing with a flange as a guide for years and now no flange! It took months before I felt comfortable, but now I wouldn’t sew without this foot. The edge of the narrow front gives me the ¼” seam allowance, the narrow opening means less movement (more accuracy) on my seam. I now have one on all my sewing machines and probably a spare one in the accessory box!

However I ran into a situation recently where I wasn’t able to sew an accurate seam with that foot and I wasn’t sure how to solve the problem. The strips that I was sewing were very narrow (¾”) and the wider foot that I normally use was being pushed to the right by the seam allowances on the left. It finally dawned on me after I had ripped the seam out twice, that I could use that narrower version of the foot. I dug it out of my presser foot box, snapped it in place and I had a perfect seam allowance for those very skinny strips of fabric! Thank goodness I didn’t give that foot away. Now I’m thinking that foot will be perfect for miniatures and other small items. I’m amazed that there’s always something new to learn, almost every day!

Setting up the sewing machine for piecing

I deactivate the FIX function as I don’t need it for chain piecing. I activate the Needle Stop Up/Down Pivot function. This function, in conjunction with the Sensor foot means that every time I stop sewing, the presser foot is going to raise about ⅛”. This allows me to get my work right up to the needle. I change my stitch length to 2.0. And of course, I put on the appropriate ¼” presser foot. Now I’m ready to get started.

Chain piecing is a good habit

There are two other things I do when I’m piecing. I always use a scrap of fabric (a leader) to start the line of stitching. Depending on the length of thread end through the needle, there are times when you start stitching and the needle will come unthreaded. It’s frustrating and so I just avoid that by using the scrap of fabric. Alternatively, I could hold the top thread in my hand and start directly on my block pieces. I just find it easier to use the scrap of fabric to start. Simply place the middle of the scrap of fabric under the presser foot and start stitching. I don’t care how it stitches on that scrap, but this works and no frustration.

The second thing is that I chain piece as much as I possibly can. In essence, each piece is now holding those threads secure for the next piece and there is no danger of the needle coming unthreaded.

I repeat these steps as  much as possible and there are days when I’ve sewn all day and not had to start a “new” seam.  And if I do, it’s usually because my bobbin has run out. There are no long threads to clip off, it’s easy to snip the block pieces apart, saves time, saves thread. That works for me!

 

The scrap of fabric (the leader) is securely holding the threads as you prepare to sew the first seam
The scrap of fabric (the leader) is securely holding the threads as you prepare to sew the first seam

 

How to sew an accurate ¼” seam

What I’m going to show you today, is very simple. I’m going to walk you through how I piece a block. I don’t pin my seams. I find pinning is very inaccurate, it’s time consuming and the pins and pin cushion are never in the right spot. I like power sewing – accurate power sewing.

I won’t go into any details about cutting, but an accurate block does start with accurate cutting. If the cutting is off, there isn’t much you can do with the piecing and pressing to get the correct size.

After the pieces are cut, I lay them out on a portable work surface. This prevents the pieces from getting mixed up by the time they go from the cutting table to the sewing machine, I place them on the work surface and I can immediately see if the pieces are laid out correctly.

 

Block pieces are laid out ready for sewing
Block pieces are laid out ready for sewing

 

I line up my first two pieces of fabric making sure that the beginning edges are even with each other.

 

Line up the leading edges of the first two pieces
Line up the leading edges of the first two pieces

 

Because the presser foot on the Opal 690Q has popped up ⅛”, it’s easy to get the leading edge of that fabric right up to the needle. I use my quilter’s awl to help get things lined up.

I was fortunate enough to be introduced to a quilter’s awl many years ago. It’s an absolute must for accuracy and using the awl instead of pinning saves so much time.

It’s cumbersome until you get used to it, but I love it!  If you have one, get it out and give it a whirl. Remember, it took me MONTHS to get used to that new presser foot and I’m happy I stuck with it.

 

The presser is raised ⅛" making it easy to get the leading edge of the fabric right up to the needle. The quilter's awl helps to keep the two pieces from shifting.
The presser is raised ⅛” making it easy to get the leading edge of the fabric right up to the needle. The quilter’s awl helps to keep the two pieces from shifting.

 

I use the quilter’s awl to ensure that the end of the seam is going to match up. If the ends don’t match up, I’m going to have trouble when I go to sew this part to the next one.

One error that many people make is that they just let their fabrics fall into place. If the ends don’t meet, they haven’t been taught that you need to ease in the fabrics to make sure they fit to each other. The reason they don’t fit is inaccurate cutting, pressing or seam allowance.  As a result, you must make sure they are eased in or the block will be a big mess.

Using the quilter's awl to ensure the two fabrics are lined up with each at the end of the seam
Using the quilter’s awl to ensure the two fabrics are lined up with each at the end of the seam

 

Once I’ve finished this section of chain piecing, I don’t break the thread. I take that scrap of fabric (or another block) and feed that under the presser foot.

 

The first part of sewing on the block is finished and now the leader becomes an ender so you don't have to "end" the seam
The first part of sewing on the block is finished and now the leader becomes an ender so you don’t have to “end” the seam

 

I take my pieced components and lay them back out on the portable work surface. Are the pieces in the correct orientation? If so, I can continue. If they did get turned around, now is the time to fix them before you press and sew the next seams.

 

The sewn components are laid back out on the portable work surface
The sewn components are laid back out on the portable work surface

 

I press EVERY seam after it’s sewn. Since the entire block is laid out on the portable work surface, it’s easy to determine which direction to press so that the seams will nest against each other.

In this case it was easy and everything was pressed to the red fabric.

To start the pressing process, lay the piece out on the ironing surface. Take the iron and press along the seam that you’ve just sewn. This is called setting the seam. It warms up the thread and the fabric and makes pressing a whole lot easier, especially if there are points.

 

Setting the seam by running the iron on top of the stitching line
Setting the seam by running the iron on top of the stitching line

 

This next step is very important and it’s where a lot of people get confused. We determined that the seam is going to be pressed towards the red, so the red fabric should be on top. Once you’ve set the seam, flip up the red fabric and using the edge of the iron, gently press the red fabric away from the white fabric. You’ll get a much better pressed seam if you press from the RIGHT side. By pressing from the right side (which is what people will see when they look at your finished quilt), you’re able to eliminate any tucks, wrinkles or little folds.  If you press from the wrong side where you see the seam allowance, you get a great view of the seam allowance, but you can’t see if any tucks or wrinkles are occuring along the seam on the right side.

Trust me on this one – just give it a try. You’ll be amazed at how the accuracy of your pressing improves.

 

Press from the RIGHT side for greater accuracy (no tucks, wrinkles or folds)
Press from the RIGHT side for greater accuracy (no tucks, wrinkles or folds)

 

I use steam. Nuff said!

 

The seam is beautifully pressed, no tucks, no folds, no wrinkles and it's flat!
The seam is beautifully pressed, no tucks, no folds, no wrinkles and it’s flat!

 

Place the nicely pressed pieces back on the portable work surface.

 

Rows of the blocks are pressed and ready for the next step
Rows of the blocks are pressed and ready for the next step

 

I’m going to start by sewing the top row to the middle row, so I flip the top row onto the middle row. I make sure the start end is nicely lined up. At this point, I don’t care about matching the points or if the ends meet.

 

The beginning of the two rows are matched up and ready to sew
The beginning of the two rows are matched up and ready to sew

 

I stitch about 1″ and stop. (Using the Needle Stop Up/Down feature means that the Opal 690Q will stop stitching with the needle in the work so your project can’t shift around.) Where you stop all depends on what distance you have until the first intersection. I want to stop so I have enough space to match up the intersection. If I have to do any easing, I need to make sure there’s enough room to ease the fabrics without causing a pucker. There’s no set rule on this and the more you do, the more you’ll know where to stop to line up the intersections or to ease in the fabric if necessary.

Essentially this is one of those things you get better at the more you do. Don’t give up – I promise, you’ll be amazed at how this can speed up your sewing and improve your accuracy. Patience!

 

Stop about one inch from the intersection so you can line up the two seams
Stop about one inch from the intersection so you can line up the two seams

 

Since these two seams are pressed in opposite directions, they’ll nest up very nicely to each other. I line them up and with my finger, I can feel if they’re overlapping, not touching or lined up just right.

 

Use your finger to feel if the seams are overlapping, not touching or lined up just right
Use your finger to feel if the seams are overlapping, not touching or lined up just right

 

Once the seam allowances are nicely nested against each other, I use my quilter’s awl to hold them in place. I’ve seen other tools being used here – pins, bamboo skewers, seam rippers, and plastic tools. I like the quilter’s awl because I’m aggressive! I’ve tried the other things and they’re not strong enough, or too wide and can result in broken needles or they don’t hold the two pieces of fabric firmly enough. The quilter’s awl is the only thing that’s holding those two fabrics together. I want the tool to be strong enough to withstand the pressure that I’ll put on it. It’s not white knuckle pressure, but enough to prevent the two pieces from shifting. The more you have to ease, the more pressure you’ll need to prevent the pieces from shifting.

Depending on the situation, I use the quilter’s awl right up under the presser foot. If I’ve got a nicely matched intersection and I take the quilter’s awl away before the intersection is sewn, the presser foot is going to shift the top piece – guaranteed! The quilter’s awl is nice and skinny and will fit under the presser foot without danger of breaking the needle. Please, use this tool with caution when you’re close to the needle. I have broken two needles in 18 years with the quilter’s awl, so be careful.

 

The quilter's awl is used to "pin" the intersection until it's sewn.
The quilter’s awl is used to “pin” the intersection until it’s sewn.

 

Once I’ve passed the intersection, I do the same thing for every intersection in that seam. There can be many stops and starts in that seam, but this process takes a lot less time and effort with better accuracy than it does to pin each intersection.

As I near the end of the line of stitching. I want those two pieces to be exactly matched and I’ll line them up and then use the quilter’s awl to hold them in place.

 

The end of the two pieces are matched up
The end of the two pieces are matched up

 

And there you have a very accurate block with two beautiful intersections. It doesn’t get any easier than that!

Recently, I heard or read somewhere that if you want to make something perfect, don’t choose to make it from fabric!

Isn’t that just the best saying ever?  And it’s true. We aim for accuracy but it’s extremely unlikely that every block will be the exact size. A few wobbles here and there won’t be noticeable and those wobbly edges are going to get buried in a seam allowance anyway.

 

A nearly perfect 6 ½" block
A nearly perfect 6 ½” block

 

Best of all, the above process is fast. Matter of fact, it’s way faster to use the quilter’s awl. If you pin, you have to line up the fabrics, you have to get the pin and place it in the fabric. As you’re sewing, you have to remove the pin and put it in the pincushion. With the quilter’s awl, you “pin” as you sew. It takes mere seconds and with the handy features of the Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q, you’ll be power sewing before you know it.

Note: If there are no intersections to match up such as in a border, I do pin!

Thanks for spending the week with me. I’ve had a lot of fun, hopefully you have as well. And I hope that you’re able to use one or two of the tips that I’ve provided.

Have a great day!

Ciao!

 

This is part 5 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 4:  Anchoring seams on your quilts using the FIX function on the Opal 690Q

Elaine Theriault is a teacher, writer and pattern designer who is completely obsessed with quilting. Elaine’s Tech Tips column (originally published in A Needle Pulling Thread magazine) is now available online in e-book format at QUILTsocial.com. When not quilting, she enjoys spending time with her two dogs, Lexi and Murphy, or can be found cycling across the country. Her blog is crazyquilteronabike.blogspot.com.

33 Comments

  1. Janie

    A lot of great tips on this post. Thank you so much. I have been quilting for more than 30 years. I still learn something new every now and then.

  2. Lori M.

    Oh I like that you have different feet for the same purpose. That is a great idea…./

  3. Very good tips.

  4. Laura S

    As a novice quilter I found this article very informative. I’m especially intrigued by the quilter’s awl, I think I’m going to give it a try. I appreciate all the pictures as well, it really helps to see what you’re talking about

  5. Shelley

    Wonderful article with a lot of great tips. Thank you!

  6. Very useful tips!

  7. Chanel

    Wow I could use one of these! My seams are always terrible!

  8. Summer

    I didn’t realize that different presser feet would affect my sewing accuracy! Also, good to know I’m doing something right with using the scrap fabric. It just makes things easier, and there are always small scraps lying around! I think I’m now totally sold on the quilter’s awl. Thanks for showing how crucial it can be for fast and accurate seams!

  9. Rachel Gagnon

    You always learn something; I don’t know how many times I read or watch a video regarding 1/4″ and today I have learned again something new. Thank you Elaine for the detailed instructions and photos.

  10. Dawn F.

    Wow, I have never really known about other options aside from pinning. The awl is interesting. It would take some getting used to, but I agree about pinning being time consuming and I hate always chasing down where I left my pin cushion!

  11. Melody Lutz

    All those 1/4″ feet got my head spinning in delight!

  12. Sally

    Accuracy is so important in group projects.

  13. Barrie

    thank for the detailed instructions as well as photos. It helped a lot!

  14. Peggy Lorentz

    I still get confused on which way to press my seams

  15. Anna brown

    Ty for the inside and ideas…

  16. Cecilia

    Thanks for the great tips!

  17. Sherry Pattie

    What a great blog. Very useful tips that I can use with my Bernina as well. Some of the tips I already use but I have never used a quilter awl. I think I will be investing in one. Thanks!

  18. Anita Jackson

    Thank you for the wonderful tutorial and tips!

  19. kim smith

    always love tips to help me with my seams

  20. Mary O.

    Thank you for such a detailed explanation on how to sew accurate seams! I am definitely getting an awl. I will also be pressing from the right side, too.

  21. Chris

    Very helpful for everyone.

  22. Nicole Aben

    These are some very useful tips, thank you!

  23. Cathy C

    I just started quilting again since I have more time after retiring. This post is a good refresher for me on seam allowances and I will keep checking on it whenever I need help.

  24. MoeWest

    Thanks for this series. It’s great information for me since I have a Husqvarna Viking machine.

    • Maureen – you’re most welcome. Glad you can you some of the information. Elaine

  25. Delaine

    This is a very informative and interesting post. I always need to go back to basics on seam allowances. Thanks!

    • Delaine – you’re very welcome. Hope your accuracy improves and you speed up! Elaine

  26. Quilting Tangent

    Thank you for all the tips.

  27. Pam B

    Hi Elaine!!! Thanks for this great series. You’ve once again given us some wonderful tips and instructions. Have a great weekend. Hugs, Pam.

  28. MaryBeth

    Thanks for the tips. I have a Bernina and am sure I can use some of these tips.

    • MaryBeth – yes some of those tips will cross over. Anything to make our sewing faster and more fun! Elaine

  29. Sandy Allen

    Thanks for the tip on using the awl to make sure things are help together and fed through correctly!

    • Sandy – you’re most welcome. Be patient with the awl. At first it’s very awkward to use, but once you get the hang of it – it’s fabulous. Elaine

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

It may take up to 24 hours for your comment to appear above.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.