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How to test to get an accurate ¼” seam allowance

 

Hello everyone and welcome back to QUILTsocial. I’m going to be spending some time this week with the Husqvarna Viking Designer EPIC. This is an amazing sewing and embroidery machine that can do just about everything.

Because I had used this sewing machine before, the first thing I did was to check if it connected to the WiFi in my house. Yep – it recognized the router and was connected without me doing anything to it. I love technology when it’s easy.

I have the manual downloaded onto the tablet and I’m ready to go.

Husqvarna Viking Designer EPIC
Husqvarna Viking Designer EPIC

 

I had some power sewing to do when I first sat down and the Designer EPIC raced through all the seams that I had prepped. I was literally piecing one quilt top a day – well maybe not quite that much, but I was on a roll.

The speed of the Designer EPIC is incredible and you gotta love that. Despite the fact of how fast the machine runs, it’s actually very stable and even though I’m sewing on a banquet table, the Designer EPIC is not bouncing around. Matter of fact, I had some fabric sitting on the bed of the sewing machine and it never moved despite the speed and the less than stable sewing table.

The other feature I found really nice and I never thought I would use is to wind bobbins while I’m sewing. The bobbin winder has its own motor and is not dependent on the sewing machine. So while piecing, the bobbins were being wound! When you’re in a hurry, this is a very important feature.

The ¼”  seam allowance

If you saw the title of this post, I bet you’re wondering why we’re going to focus on a simple topic like ¼” seam allowance when there’s so much machine waiting to be talked about.

Here’s the reason. I was teaching a class about a month ago. It wasn’t a beginner class and I never thought to mention the ¼”  seam allowance. The seam allowance was important to this project as the end piece needed to be a certain length in order to sub cut the wedges required for the project.

Imagine my dismay when a couple of the students got to the next cutting stage only to find that their pieces were not the same length and some of the sections were too short. Yikes!  How did this happen? A quick glance at the reverse side of the work revealed that many of the seams were too large and inconsistent.

“But I have a ¼” foot”, lamented several students. When I investigated, one of the students was using a regular foot as her ¼” foot, meaning that her seam allowance was a generous ⅜”. Much too large for any accurate piecing. Others, in fact, had a ¼” foot installed on their sewing machine, but they took it upon faith that they would get ¼”.

So how does this happen that we get the proper tools and yet we don’t get the results that we want? Many sewists are happy to just dive right in and that’s OK, but it does help to understand our tools a little bit and how to use them properly.

I’m going to take a few minutes and discuss a couple of different styles of ¼” piecing feet and how to run a test that will allow you to sew with a ¼” foot for accurate piecing. Or even a regular foot if that’s all you have.

Various styles of ¼" piecing feet
Various styles of ¼” piecing feet

 

As you can see, ¼” feet come in a variety of styles. Some have flanges, some do not. Some require that you move the needle out of the center position and others do not.

I sewed for many years on a machine that required moving the needle out of the center position, requiring me to use the multiple purpose stitch plate. It wasn’t a big deal, but it was a setting that I had to change every time upon starting up the sewing machine. And if someone accidentally unplugged your machine (trust me – it happens!) and you don’t know and don’t move that needle, you can sew for a while before you realize the seam allowance isn’t correct.

A few years ago, I discovered the Quilter’s ¼” piecing foot and I’m in love with this foot. I know, I’ve written about it many times, but this is one area that’s so critical and from my recent classroom experience, it’s a skill that many people think they know about and in fact, they don’t. So it bears repeating. You know what they say – repeat something 7 times and people will remember. I think I’m up to about 5 times!

It might be hard to tell the difference in the width of the seam allowances in the photos below, but the first picture shows the Quilter’s ¼” Piecing Foot on the Designer EPIC. The front edge of the foot lines up with the lines on the plastic bobbin case cover. Essentially, I’m getting a guide on that cover that lines up with the presser foot to make getting my ¼” seam allowance very easy.

Quilter's ¼" presser foot with the needle in the center position
Quilter’s ¼” presser foot with the needle in the center position

 

In this next photo, I have the General Purpose foot on the sewing machine. Some people attempt to use this foot to get their ¼” seam allowance and while it can be done, it’s going to require moving the needle to the right in order to make that happen.

You can also see how much wider this foot is relative to the lines on the plastic bobbin case cover. If I were using the right edge of this foot as my guide, my seams would all be about ⅛” too large. That could create some interesting piecework.

General Purpose A foot is installed with the needle in the center position
General Purpose A foot is installed with the needle in the center position

 

This next foot is also a ¼” presser foot with a flange on the right-hand side. In the photo below, the needle remains in the center position, but look at the right-hand side of the foot relative to the markings on the plastic bobbin case cover. Again, if the needle isn’t moved over, the seam allowance would be almost ⅛” larger than it should be.

Quilter's ¼" piecing foot with flange on the right-hand side and needle remains in center position
Quilter’s ¼” piecing foot with flange on the right-hand side and needle remains in center position

 

In the photo below, the needle has been moved to the right of the center position so it’s now lined up with the red mark on the presser foot.

 

A ¼" piecing foot with flange and the needle has been moved to the right of the center position
A ¼” piecing foot with flange and the needle has been moved to the right of the center position

 

Depending on the stitch plate and the setting on the Stitch Width Safety, you may get a pop-up message reminding you of what these settings are. It’s a good idea if you have the straight stitch plate (single hole) on the Designer EPIC that you engage the Stitch Width Safety feature. Just do it!

Pop up message about the stitch plate and stitch width safety
Pop up message about the stitch plate and stitch width safety

 

It’s so simple to fix the width of the seam allowance, yet time after time, I’m amazed at how many people do not know how easy it is to resolve this issue. I even had a student who got upset when I told her that I could help to fix her generous seam allowances. She even went so far as to tell me that she wasn’t going to buy a new sewing machine. What that tells me is that she had no idea of the flexibility that she has with her sewing machine and its accessories. In the end, she spent the remainder of the class perfecting her seam and she went away a better sewist.

Why is the ¼” seam allowance so important?

If you were only sewing the same size squares to each other, the ¼” wouldn’t be important. But if you’re sewing four squares together so they equal the size of another square, it’s important that the new square you created be the same size as the one you’re going to attach it to. If it isn’t the same size, it’s going to be a bit of a hassle when you need to join them.

Or let’s say you’re sewing a sampler type quilt top. One block has many seams and the next block has only a few. If the seam allowance isn’t consistent, guess what? Those two blocks will not fit together properly. You’re going to have an issue with joining the blocks.

If your block has triangles in it, it’s going to require fairly accurate ¼” seams in order to maintain a sharp point at the ends of the triangles.

And if you’re going to sew at the speed that you’ll sew on the Designer EPIC, you’re not going to want to rip out all those incorrect seams.

So let’s look at this simple test that can help you become a better and more accurate piecer. And it only takes a few minutes. It’s well worth your time to try it out.

The Test

I’ve seen people take a shortcut on the test. One seam is as good as two. No – two seams are better than one. Why? It helps to understand how consistent you are. Maybe it was a fluke that you got the first seam right. And the seams have to be pressed and you have to measure with the piece UNDER the ruler, not on top.

Having said all that, here’s what you need to do. Accurately cut three pieces of fabric. The strips should be 1½” x 6″. Sew the long sides together with what you think is your ¼” seam allowance. Press the seams to one side – it doesn’t matter which side, but press them like you would normally press. Make sure they are well pressed. Now place your ruler on top of your piece and measure the width of the three strips. How did you make out? Is your piece too wide? Then your seam allowance is too narrow. Is your piece too narrow? Then your seam allowance is too big.

Repeat test until you get it right.

There are two ways to fix the problem – you may have to move your fabric to the left or right of the edge of your foot in order to get an accurate ¼” seam allowance. You may need to move the needle. Either way, make note of what you did to get that accurate ¼” foot and write it on a piece of paper to keep beside the sewing machine.

And when we say accurate, it doesn’t mean that you get a mathematically accurate ¼” seam allowance. What it means is that the resulting piece from the top measures the size it’s supposed to.

The difference in width by using two different feet
The difference in width by using two different feet

 

Almost ¼" difference on these two tests.
Almost ¼” difference on these two tests.

 

Dos and Don’ts of the ¼” seam allowance test

DO

  • take the time to accurately cut your strips
  • sew TWO seams, not just one
  • press the seams well to one side
  • place the ruler over the top of the piece to measure the width
  • take the time to fix the seam allowance if it’s out of whack

DON’T

  • measure the seam allowance on the back. It’s the size of the joined pieces that’s more important than the actual seam allowance because you have to accommodate for the fold over of the fabric in the seam allowance.
  • try to shortcut this test. It doesn’t take long to try and then you should be good until you buy a new sewing machine or purchase a new piecing foot.
  • be afraid of your sewing machine. Play with it, test it out, experiment with it. You’ll learn so much by playing and you’ll enjoy the sewing process a whole lot more.

Moving the needle

Not only can I move the needle in order to get a more accurate seam, but I can move the needle in order to position the needle exactly where I want it to be. On the Designer EPIC, there are 29 needle positions – 14 on either side of the center position. So if I were to topstitch or use a decorative stitch, I could stitch down one side of the line (or seam) and then mirror the stitch to get the needle in the exact same position on the other side. No need to turn the project around, it’s easy to move the needle.

Do yourself a favor and test, test, test that ¼” seam allowance. The Quilter’s ¼” Piecing Foot and the Husqvarna Viking Designer EPIC make the task of sewing a very accurate ¼” seam allowance. No need to move the needle for regular piecing.

Thanks for bearing with me while I spend this time chatting about a very simple, yet extremely important task.

Come back tomorrow, when I’ll have some tips for sewing and pressing that will speed up the process and help to eliminate errors.

Have a great day!

Ciao!

 

This is part 1 of 5 in this series.

Go to part 2: 3 essential tips for chain piecing

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.

2 Comments

  1. Sharon Bourque

    Thank you for this excellent article. Can you please tell me where I can purchase the Quilter’s 1/4 inch foot. What is the brand? Is it machine specific?
    I thank you in advance for your time in responding to my question.

    • Sharon – the 1/4″ Quilter’s Foot is for the Husqvarna brand sewing machines. The foot can be purchased at any Husqvarna dealer.

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