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.
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.
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!
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.
I line up my first two pieces of fabric making sure that the beginning edges are even with each other.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I use steam. Nuff said!
Place the nicely pressed pieces back on the portable work surface.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!