Quilters are a precise bunch — there's no arguing that. But that's a good thing, since accuracy is everything when it comes to picture-perfect piecing techniques . After all, nobody wants to cut up their favorite fabrics only to realize that their project has come out too small or their pieces don't fit together quite right!
That's where these go-to rules come in. Refer to them whenever you need a piecing refresher and we bet those blocks will come out better than ever before.
1. Use Sharp Tools
You might think you're being economical using tools that are past their prime, but dull blades and needles make accuracy nearly impossible. A good rule of thumb: Start every project with a new rotary blade and a fresh sewing needle .
2. Measure Twice, Cut Once
It's a quilter's mantra because, honestly, it's just good sense to double check your work before making any permanent moves. Other ways to ensure you're on the right track: use clear, non-slip rulers or adhesive gripper tape to prevent slips, and make one cut on the fabric's edge to make sure everything is square before you start cutting for real. Oh, and when you're cutting several units from the same piece of fabric, stop occasionally to make sure the fabric is still square.
3. Embrace Starch
Starching fabric makes your materials stiff, helping seams lay flatter and preventing distortion while you handle and pin pieces. Plus, it comes out in the wash!
4. Bust Out a Scant ¼in Seam
Most quilt patterns call for a ¼in seam allowance, and that means you need to hit ¼in exactly. Think about it: If you're off by even ⅛th of an inch on every block, by the time you piece together the entire quilt, it's unlikely to match up. That, or you'll end up with a quilt that's a totally different size than what you intended. Either way, not good!
The first step to avoiding that mistake: knowing how to master the ¼in seam. That can be tougher than you might think, as it's common for the ¼in markings on your sewing machine (or even your ¼in presser foot) to be noticeably off.
How to Get a Perfect ¼in Seam
To make sure your markings and presser foot haven't gone off track, stitch a ¼in seam, then measure it with a clear ruler.
The above image, for example, shows a typical half-square triangle set-up with a marked line on the diagonal (that’s the center line in pink). The seam to the left (in green) is a scant seam, falling just inside a ¼in to the marked line. The seam on the right (in yellow) is slightly larger than a ¼in seam, and falls just outside a ¼in from the marked line. Although it doesn’t seem like that much of a difference on this tiny bit of fabric, when you multiply it over all the seams in a quilt, you can see how quickly that difference can start to add up.
How to Sew Scant ¼in Seams
Once you've got everything back in line, it's time for a quilter's secret weapon: the scant ¼in seam. Using this technique accounts for both the seam and the actual fold in the fabric when you press your seams under, so it's less likely you'll be off the further into your project you get. And the best part is that it's super easy to do! If you're replicating the image above, simply make sure you can't see the fabric edge or drawn line (highlighted in pink above) by keeping it just under the very edge of your foot. That's it!
5. Press Smart
There's a big difference between pressing and ironing, and you want to make sure you're definitely pressing here. That means placing your iron straight down on the fabric, rather than moving it back and forth like you're trying to get wrinkles out of a dress. Moving a hot, steaming iron in this way pretty much guarantees you'll stretch and distort your quilt pieces. To see proper pressing in action, check out this quickie tutorial .
6. Trim Dog Ears and Tails
Some blocks, like half-square triangles and quarter-square triangles, end up with little tails or dog ears of fabric that extend into the seam allowance. These just add bulk, so make sure to trim them off.
7. Square Up Blocks If You Have To
Truth be told, if you cut and sew your blocks accurately, you may not need to square up your final block. But some patterns tell you to make blocks a little large, then instruct you to trim them down to their finished measurements later. When that's the case, use an acrylic ruler to make sure blocks and block segments are all the same size before putting them all together in your quilt.
8. Learn to Love Basic Math
There's no way around it: quilters need math. You'll need to understand how pieces add up to equal a total measurement on a block or quilt, be able to calculate how much fabric you’ll need to purchase, and know how to determine the number of strips to cut for your binding.
If that feels like a lot, here's the secret sauce: buy a pattern. (Psst: Bluprint members can download ours for free !) As a beginner — or heck, at any skill level — there's nothing wrong with using patterns that have done all the math for you. That way you can get straight to quilting! And if you want to start refreshing your math skills as you advance, then you'll feel that much more empowered to do so. Keep calm and quilt on, friends!