Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tips, Tricks & Tools (Precision Piecing Pointers)

So happy to have you join me for today's Cutting Corners College Tutorial for Riley Blake Designs! 

Sewing tools
Tips, Tricks & Tools (Precision Piecing Pointers)PRINTER FRIENDLY INSTRUCTIONS

The following are some of my best tips and tricks that make quilting so satisfying and enjoyable!  Whether you are just getting started on your quilting journey, or are an experienced quilter, this tutorial may help improve your sewing techniques, save time and energy, and help you to perfect the elements of beautiful quilt-making.  

TOOLS:  Accuracy begins with the basics:  Good tools, taking time to cut accurately, and using the best materials you can find and afford (sewing machine in good working order, iron and board, fabric, thread, batting, mat, rotary cutter, ruler, etc.).  Here's a peek at my favorite tools and toys in my sewing kit: 
  •  Scissors:  Ginghers scissors, pinking shears, Kai snippers, Easykut nippers (instead of a seam-ripper), and some cute, tiny, sharp scissors for embroidery or snipping threads.
  • Rotary Cutting Tools:  Rotary cutter with extra blades, and clear acrylic rulers for making perfectly straight cuts.  I get the most use from my 6" x 18" or 24" rulers.  And I love my little Omnigrid Foldaway cutting mat with pressing surface for quilting on the go.  A good beginning size mat is 18 " x 24" with a 1" grid, hash marks at 1/8" increments and 45- and 60-degree angles.
  • Quilter's Bible: my booklet of charts (setting triangles, backing yardage, etc), basics, and quilter's math formulas right at my fingertips.
  •  Needles/Thread/Pins:  Size 75 to 80 sewing machine needle for most piecing; my favorite thread for piecing, applique', binding and machine quilting ("So Fine" by Superior); a glue stick, an embroidery needle, and a leather ThimblePad adhesive dot to use for a thimble.  My favorite pins are Clover's fine, sharp little glass-head pins that slide in and out of fabrics easily.  And finally, you can never have enough chicken pin cushions! 
TIPS:                        ~~  MEASURE TWICE, CUT ONCE!!  ~~
  • CUTTING ~ Using the same brand of ruler regardless of size when measuring and cutting will keep your pieces consistent.  Square up and align pieces before sewing together.   Pin/glue stick/stiletto to help pieces fit together as you stitch.  If necessary to ease, place larger piece on bottom so feed dogs can help.  Make it a habit to re-trim each pieced unit to the correct required measurement.  And may your blade always be sharp!!
  • THREAD ~ Use a neutral thread color - helps the thread blend in, especially when you have  multi-value fabric.  Use thread meant for piecing—bulky thread makes bulky seams.

  • SEAMS ~ Using an accurate 1/4" seam allowance throughout a quilt's construction will make your blocks straight and lie flat.  A little time to test and measure your seam allowance can save hours of frustration later!  Stitch length should be 10 to 12 stitches per inch (2.0 to 2.5 mm).  It is not necessary to backstitch when piecing quilt blocks as each seam will be enclosed in another seam, border or binding.  Check your seam allowance: 
1)  Cut three 1-1/2" x 4" strips of fabric; one light, two dark.Cut strips

2)  Stitch strips together; light strip in the center, using 1/4" seam allowance.
Press to set seams, then press toward the darker fabric.
Press to set seamPress away from center strip

3)  Measure center strip.  It should measure exactly one inch.Measure 

If the center strip is larger, your seam allowance is too small.  If the center strip is smaller than one inch, your seam allowance is too large.  You may be able to correct this by using a 1/4" presser foot, or moving your needle position to the right or left.  If not, continue with these steps:

4)  Slide a ruler under the presser foot, and lower the needle until just on the 1/4" line.  Use the lines of your foot plate to straighten the ruler horizontally and vertically.

Measure distance from needle

5)  Adhere some removable blue painter's masking tape on the throat plate of your machine along the side of the ruler, 1/4" away from needle.  Remove the ruler and use the edge of the tape as your 1/4" guide.  Build up a few layers to form a nice ridge.  Test your seam allowance again.  Repeat if necessary. :)

Painter's tape guide
  • PRESSING ~ Your iron is as important a tool as your sewing machine.  Pressing seams ensures accurate piecing.  As a general rule, you will get better results if you press on the front (printed) side of the fabric.  Set the seam by pressing the sewn unit flat, sinking the stitches into the fabric (see Step 2 above).  Then press the seam to one side, usually toward the darker fabric.  Doing this will help align the seams perfectly and reduce bulk.  Use a hot, dry iron and press in an up and down motion.  Use a light mist if needed, but be wary of steam--after all, cotton shrinks.   
  • PINNING ~ When you want seam lines to line up perfectly, first match up seams so they alternate and nestle at the intersection.  Pin diagonally through the pieces, catching both seam allowances.  Remove the pin when you get to it to avoid stitching over the pin.  For tricky or bulky seams, try using a washable glue stick instead of pins.

To make blocks lie flat at the intersection of four seams, try Darlene Zimmerman’s “Magic Twist.” 
 1)  Make sure your seams alternate at the intersection.

Alternated seams

2)  Hold the block in both hands about 1/2" from the center seam;
gently twist in opposite directions, releasing a few stitches in the seam allowance.

Twist seam to pop stitches in intersection

3)  Press the intersection with the nose of your iron.
Note how the seam allowances fan out, traveling in a circular pattern.

Press intersection, seams fan out

4)  Turn unit over and press on printed side of fabric for a crisp seam.  Magical!

Perfect points

  • QUILT COMFORTABLY ~ Be sure to have plenty of light on your work space.  For ideal ergonomics, the bed of your machine should be low enough that you can sit up straight and relax your shoulders, about 9" above the seat of your chair.  The cutting table should be about 6" below your elbow.  Your pressing surface should be about 3" lower than your elbow.  Your back and shoulders should not have to suffer for your creative passion!  :)
  • RELAX ~ Sew slowly and keep control.  Sometimes multi-tasking such as chain piecing or cutting multiple layers of fabric can diminish the ability to be precise.  Remember to blink, breathe, swallow.  Take a break every 45 minutes.
  • ENJOY! ~ The process should not be a race to the finish but an enjoyable experience.  Be willing to try new things, take your time, test your creativity, and enjoy yourself!  Remember, you are telling your story and making a treasure in cloth--It deserves your best work!
k!  I hope you have found a tip or two that you can use!  If you have questions, please leave a comment or email a note:  deonn@quiltscapesqs.com.  I'd love to hear from you!

Join me here at Cutting Corners College the 1st Monday of each Month for "Quilting/Sewing Basics"!  Next month we'll get started with "Building Blocks"; multiple ways to make the basic quilt units used in nearly every pieced quilt (squares, rails, triangles, flying geese, log cabins...).   

Comments from RBD

  1. These are some wonderful tips. Thank you so much!
    by Deb
    July 28th, 2012 at 9:15 p.m.
  2. Thank you so much for such great tips; especially for newcomers like me. I've dreamed of making a quilt one of these days/years. lol Thank you again. I've bookmarked your page for future reference and for when I get ready to take that step in quilting.
    by arshoelover@gmail.com
    October 30th, 2012 at 9:28 p.m.
  3. I'm just learning to quilt. This was so helpful. Thank you.
    by Debbie
    October 30th, 2012 at 10:53 p.m.
  4. I can't wait till tomorrow, when I'll put to use all the great info I learned by watching your videos! Thank you so much.
    by vickeyb
    November 17th, 2012 at 10:24 p.m.
  5. Thank you for these tips. I especially appreciated your point about cotton shrinking...hadn't considered that it would shrink from the steam of an iron.
    by julie
    June 17th, 2013 at 9:54 a.m.
  6. Hello, I'm new to sewing and have been making some patchwork quilted cushion covers. I have been finishing each and every seam with an overlock stitch.  Is this necessary as the patchwork top will be covered with batting and backing enclosing these seams? Should I only be overlocking the completed outside edge? Thanks for the article, very helpful.  Lorraine, good question!  It is not necessary to finish every seam as it will eventually be enclosed in the next seam, border or binding! ~Deonn
    by Lorraine
    August 05th, 2013 at 10:44 a.m.
  7. Thanks for these tips! I'm just about to start my first quilting project; starting fairly small with a table runner. Being keen to get on with things, I probably wouldn't have thought to do a 'test' strip first to check my seam allowances so will certainly do so now. I'm not new to sewing: made quite a lot of clothes for myself and children when they were young but haven't ever tried quilting before. Am looking forward to it so much!
    by Suzanne
    January 28th, 2014 at noon
  8. I've been quilting since 1992 and found your tips refreshing. I like how to figure a 1/4" seam. I've seen other ways done, but I like that the center piece should be 1". Easy! I also like how you release a few stitches and your center fans out. I didn't know that trick. That is an awesome way to sew! Thanks for that tip!! I will use it all the time now. And thanks for the refresher course. I know it isn't a race. I use to think so, but I use to make lots of mistakes and not enjoy sewing as much. Now I take my time. I take lots of breaks - that's a good tip, also. I just slowed down and my work improved immensely. No more hurrying up to get a quilt done!
    by Jeanne
    February 17th, 2014 at 7:13 p.m.
  9. great tips,it always help to review good tips
    by Jeanne
    June 14th, 2014 at 11:36 p.m.
  10. dakujem za skvele tipy na witie deky je to dobra pom├┤cka aj krasne predstavy ako bude vyzerat v skuto─Źnosti deka velka vdaka Cilka. 
    thanks for great tips on sewing blankets it's a good tool and beautiful ideas how it looks like in fact a blanket a big thank you Cilka
    by CILKA159@azet.sk
    September 13th, 2014 at 11:55 p.m.
  11. where can I get one of those I love my Quilting Friends Ruler?  LaNora, the "I Love My Quilting Friends" ruler is manufactured by Creative Grids, 2-1/2" x 10".  ~Deonn
    by LaNora Shepherd
    November 08th, 2014 at 11:04 p.m.
  12. Thanks for the tips of 1/4 seam. How do I get the Quilting Friends Ruler?  Linda, the "I Love My Quilting Friends" ruler is manufactured by Creative Grids, 2-1/2" x 10".  ~Deonn
    by Linda Jones
    July 28th, 2015 at 8:57 a.m.

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