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Two quilting techniques to improve speed and accuracy

Husqvarna Viking Designer Ruby Royale Sewing Machine
Husqvarna Viking Designer Ruby Royale

 

Hello everyone and welcome back to my week with QUILTSocial and the Husqvarna Viking Designer Ruby Royale. I never seem to have a shortage of what to talk about on QUILTSocial, however I do have time management issues. Of course – I have time management issues all the time.

To help me out, there are lots of time saving features in the quilting world and especially on the Ruby Royale. And remember that old saying “a stitch in time saves nine”?  Well today’s post is all about that.

If you take the time to perfect the two areas we are talking about today, you’ll become a much more accurate sewist and save time to boot. How awesome is that?

Read on and see what I am talking about.

I spend a lot of time teaching classes and I get a lot of questions about technical issues in the quilting world. I thought it would be good to address two issues that I see over and over again since both are related to the sewing machine. I’m going to use the Ruby Royale as my guinea pig as I walk you through what causes these issues and how to fix them.

Stitch Length

If you are a garment or home decorator sewist, your sewing techniques and sewing machine settings differ substantially from those of a quilter. When I learned how to sew clothing way back when, I learned to start and stop seams with a back stitch to ensure that the seams were not going to pull open at the ends.

All computerized sewing machines are set with a default stitch length which seems to vary between 2.0 and 3.0. The default on the Ruby Royale is 2.5.  My rationale for this is that sewing machines are mostly used for garment or home dec sewing. Gasp!!  You mean sewing machines are not made for quilters? Nope –  I could be making that up, but there are a lot of non-quilters who are purchasing sewing machines.

Depending on the pattern, quilter’s have unique methods like strip piecing and chain piecing which means that the end of each seam is not secured.

For those not in the know, strip piecing means joining several strips together along the long side and then sub cutting them into sections.

 

Three strips joined together in a strip set
Three strips joined together in a strip set

 

Strip set cut into sub sections
Strip set cut into sub sections

 

You can see from the above example that it would be very hard to back stitch between those sections since the seams were initially sewn as one seam. To cut the pieces individually and secure each beginning and end would be very time consuming.

Chain piecing means sewing one seam after another without cutting the thread.

Chain piecing
Chain piecing

 

If the stitch length is too long, then the seams will have a tendency to come apart. I see this very frequently on quilts, especially at a border where there is no cross seam to secure the stitching in place.

The end of this border seam is pulling apart
The end of this border seam is pulling apart

 

When I sew another seam across the end of a seam, that helps to secure the stitching so it doesn’t pull apart.

However as in the case above, there is no seam that crosses that border seam to hold it in place.

Large stitches will result in seams pulling apart at the unsecured ends
Large stitches will result in seams pulling apart at the unsecured ends

 

I frequently mention to people that their stitch length is too long and I usually get one of two common answers:

1.” I didn’t know it should have been smaller. I just sewed at whatever the stitch length was when I turned on the sewing machine.”

2. “Oh I know – I like it that. It makes it easier to rip out stitches!”

 

Ooops – neither answer is acceptable!

The best way to solve this problem is to decrease the stitch length to 2.0.  This shorter stitch length allows you to strip piece and chain piece and no worries about the stitches coming loose at either end of the stitching.

The first thing I do when I turn on the Ruby Royale (or any of my sewing machines) is to decrease the stitch length to 2.0.

You can always use the My Stitches menu on the Ruby Royale to make your own custom stitch  (with a shorter length) so you don’t have to remember to change it. But I find it very simple to just use the stylus and decrease the stitch length to 2.0. Then I am good to go for that piecing session.

Top row - Stitch length of 3.0 Middle row - Stitch length of 2.5 Bottom row - Stitch length of 2.0
Top row – Stitch length of 3.0
Middle row – Stitch length of 2.5
Bottom row – Stitch length of 2.0

 

Even when "stretched", the end of the seam allowance is secure with 2.0 stitch length
Even when “stretched”, the end of the seam allowance is secure with 2.0 stitch length

 

Quarter Inch Seam Allowance

This is a HUGE issue with many quilters. They are unable to get an accurate or consistent seam allowance.

What exactly is a 1/4″ seam allowance? When we talk about 1/4″ seam allowance, what we really mean is a scant 1/4″ seam allowance. The seam allowance should be just a thread or two less than 1/4″. And why is that? Well as your fabric folds back over the seam allowance, the height of that fold takes up some fabric. If you don’t compensate for that fold, your seam allowance will be perfect, but the piece will be too small.

A few threads are taken as the fabric folds over the seam allowances, hence the need for a SCANT 1/4", not an exact 1/4"
A few threads are taken as the fabric folds over the seam allowances, hence the need for a SCANT 1/4″, not an exact 1/4″

 

There are many many different styles of 1/4″ feet available. Some are clear, some have guides, and it really requires that one experiment with the various styles to see what works best for you. I know that switching from one style to another is a big deal!  It takes some time to readjust to the new foot.

Four different styles of 1/4" piecing feet for the Husqvarna Viking sewing machines
Four different styles of 1/4″ piecing feet for the Husqvarna Viking sewing machines

 

 Things like needle position, thickness of thread, your fabric, how you position the seam – all of these can have a bearing on the actual seam allowance.

Every time you switch to a new foot you should do the following test to make sure that your seam allowance is what you want it to be.

Take three pieces of fabric that measure 1 1/2″ by 6″. (make sure that your cutting is accurate). Sew them together along the long side with what you think is your scant 1/4″. Press the seams well (that is another story).

Lay a quilting ruler ON TOP of the sample. Does it measure 3 1/2″ wide? If not, what is wrong? If the sample is narrower than 3 1/2″, then the seam allowance is too big.

Seam allowance test sample is TOO SMALL
Seam allowance test sample is TOO SMALL

 

The fabric extends beyond the edge of the 1/4" foot
The fabric extends beyond the edge of the 1/4″ foot

 

In the example above, you can see that the edge of the fabric extends to the right of the Quilter’s 1/4″ Piecing foot P (the front part of the foot). This results in a seam allowance that is a bit too generous. You can see that when we place the ruler on top of the sample, the piece is smaller than 3 1/2″.

If the sample is too big, then the seam allowances are too small.

Seam allowance test sample is TOO BIG
Seam allowance test sample is TOO BIG

 

See how the fabric is positioned to the left of the edge of the Quilter's 1/4" Piecing foot P
See how the fabric is positioned to the left of the edge of the Quilter’s 1/4″ Piecing foot P

 

Now the seam allowance is too small resulting in the test piece being too large once the ruler is placed on top of the sample.

The fabric is right on the edge of the Quilter's 1/4" Piecing foot P
The fabric is right on the edge of the Quilter’s 1/4″ Piecing foot P

 

Seam allowance test sample is exactly 3 1/2" - PERFECT
Seam allowance test sample is exactly 3 1/2″ – PERFECT

 

In the sample above (using the Quilter’s 1/4″ Piecing foot P), the edge of the foot gives a nice scant 1/4″ seam allowance. The test piece is exactly 3 1/2″.

Imagine you are making a block with a lot of seams. If that seam allowance is not correct, you will end up with a very different sized block than you’re supposed to have.

Top seam allowance is too big Middle seam allowance is too small Bottom seam allowance is perfect!
Top seam allowance is too big
Middle seam allowance is too small
Bottom seam allowance is perfect!

 

 While there are numerous gadgets and guides on the market to help with the scant quarter inch, I find that if you do a bit of work up front and use the foot on the sewing machine, you will have no problem with accuracy.

Depending on the 1/4″ foot and settings on the sewing machine, you may have to move the needle to get the scant 1/4″ seam allowance. Alternatively, you may have to move the fabric slightly away from the edge of the foot or flange. The key is to TEST so you know what position your fabric needs to be in, in order to get that accurate and consistent seam allowance.

Quilter’s 1/4″ Piecing foot P

Because each sewing machine and/or foot can be very different, it is important you sew the same project on the same machine with the same foot. However I found that I started using several different sewing machines and it became an issue to remember which project had been started on which sewing machine and with which foot.

I found the Quilter’s 1/4″ Piecing foot P and I fell in love with it. There is a hole in the center of the foot which means that I do NOT rely on the needle position or any setting on the sewing machine for my scant 1/4″ seam allowance. I use the EDGE of the foot as my guide. That means I can use this foot on ANY of my sewing machines and I will get the SAME quarter inch.

What a huge time saver that is. I love it!!!!!

Quilter's 1/4" Piecing foot P
Quilter’s 1/4″ Piecing foot P

 

Either way, you MUST figure out the setting that works for you. If you do not, you will find yourself ripping and since you have shortened your stitch length, it won’t be as easy!

Keep the seam allowances consistent all the way through the seam. Sewists have a tendency to let go of the fabric as they near the end of the seam and the fabric shifts creating a too small or too large seam allowance at the end. Sew to the end of the seam, then stop. Think of driving a car – once you reach the end of your driveway, do you take your hands off the wheel to collect your things? I didn’t think so!

Now it’s time for you to get to work. Get some scraps and experiment. This is not a hard exercise, yet the time and effort you will save will be huge.

Bobbins

A quick word about bobbins. I was sewing the other day and the Ruby Royale was making a terrible noise. The bobbin sounded like it was jumping out of the bobbin case. I had visions of the tension going crazy. I checked the back – no – everything seemed to be OK. I checked the bobbin and didn’t “see” anything unusual. I finished the bobbin with it making a noise the entire time. I switched to a different bobbin.

AH – I know what the problem was. The first bobbin I used was OLD and WORN OUT. Thus it was bouncing around in the bobbin case and making all that noise. Once I put a NEW bobbin in, the sewing  machine made no noise.

Lesson learned – bobbins do wear out. If they make noises – ditch them.

New bobbin on the left - old bobbin on the right
New bobbin on the left – old bobbin on the right

 

Ooops – not hard to tell which bobbin is the old one!  OK – I will go through my bobbins and throw out the old ones.

After all these years – I am still learning.

Tomorrow I will be using the Husqvarna Viking Designer Ruby Royale to tackle another troublesome technique for quilters. Wait until you see what it is. The technique is subject to much discussion. Plus there will be loads of tips to perfect this technique.

Have a great day!

Ciao!

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.

7 Comments

  1. Marie Brunton

    Thanks for the excellent article about accurate 1/4″ seams. I to am a fan of my P foot.

    One question, not directly related to your article, but is confounding me. Where did the word sewist come from? It doesn’t fit accurately into the grammatical rules and, to my ears, doesn’t soiund right. Maybe Amerrcian grammar follws different rules. If you are a sewist are you also a quiltest? Is it a part of a modern quilters language?

    Marie

    • Although sewist isn’t a word in the dictionary, it combines “sew” with “artist”, and is beginning to gain popularity. It has been recently used to add flare, panache or style to describe ‘the one that sews’.

      The first known use of the word “sewer” to mean “one that sews” occurred in the 14th century and this is the dominant word and the one you’ll find in dictionaries.

      Many people who sew dislike the word “sewist” possibly for two reason: they believe it to be a hack-job on the English language and because it’s redundant since we already have ‘sewer’. But language is always in a state of evolution, and words are created and coined and adapted to help describe various aspects of our expanding cultures, societies, and technologies.

      It may be that sewist infers a more contemporary approach rather than a traditional one? There’s also the close resemblance in writing between “sewer” and a word of the same spelling that means “a subterranean conduit that carries off sewage.” “Sewist” at least can’t be mistaken for that word. Also in this age where it’s hip to DIY and apply your creativity, sewist evokes the idea that you’re not only sewing you’re also, creating, adding your own personal touch to whatever it is you’re sewing.

      And then there’s …’sewing enthusiast’? Are you a sewer, a sewist or a sewing enthusiast?

      Thanks for asking Marie! It’s a really good question.

  2. Pauline

    Thanks for the article – lots of great information.
    Pauline

  3. dari

    This post is just so detailed and great!

    • so glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for your feedback and for following us on QUILTSOCIAL.COM
      Elaine

  4. B Lepech

    Very worthwhile information. Thanks!

    • So glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for the feedback and for following us on QUILTSOCIAL.COM.

      Elaine

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