July 25, 2014 § 12 Comments
When it comes to quilt making, accurate cutting can be just as important as accurate sewing. Especially when there are a million tiny little pieces! The first thing you will want to do even before cutting is to press & straighten your fabric. This just sets the foundation for better overall success.
(photo courtesy of Clothworks)
I’m sure you all know that when you cut fabric right off the bolt it is almost always a little crooked, right? Some fabrics are better or worse than others. Quilting fabric comes rolled on long tubes as the manufacturers receive it from the printing & dying facility.
Then it needs to be rolled onto a flat bolt. When the fabric is placed on the machine that folds & rolls it onto the bolt, it can really get messed up if it isn’t set up properly. Believe me, from working in a quilt shop, we hate those bad bolts as much as you do. They aren’t easy to cut and you end up with a funny shaped piece of fabric as well. Cassie at Elegantitus shows some good photos of fabric rolls to bolts in her post over here.
So, getting back to cutting basics.
First, straighten your fabric. Fold the fabric in half with selvages together. Hold the fold with your fingers on one side and hold the selvages in your other hand.
In this photo you can see that the cut edges from the bolt are lined up but the selvages are not parallel.
Shift the selvage side up or down until the selvages are parallel to each other. Here you can see that the selvages are parallel but the cut edge is not. This is how your fabric will look. It may not be this dramatic of a difference. Or it may be more. If you skip this step, this is why that “wow” or “bow” at the fold line of your cut strip occurs.
Carefully lay your fabric onto your cutting mat and line up the selvage with the grid on your mat. Trim away the uneven cut edge from the bolt.
Now, there are many ways to cut from there. Most people turn their mat around and start cutting, measuring from the left side of the fabric to the right. These people often say to NOT use the mat to measure, but use the ruler to measure from the cut edge of the fabric, from left to right. Your ruler may not match the mat.
Quilting teachers tell you to leave your fabric where it is, lay a ruler along the cut edge to measure from the right towards the left. Then lay your large ruler snug up next to that ruler, slide the first ruler away, and cut your fabric. They also say to NOT use the mat but to only use rulers to measure.
What I do is a modification of the last one. I measure from the right towards the left. But I use my ruler and line it up with the measurements of the mat. The extra ruler seems like an unnecessary step to me. I always look to make sure that at least two or more lines on the top & bottom of the ruler match the lines on the mat. This seems fairly accurate to me.
And for me, I have found that I cut more accurately using this method over the other two methods. I recommend that you try each one and see which gives you the best results.
Sometimes, if you have to make a large number of cuts, it is easy to start being 1/16th to 1/8th inch off no matter which method you are using to cut. Just line up the selvage with the mat again, trim off the little bit of uneven edge as in the beginning. Then beginning cutting again. Nobody likes to end up with that curve at the fold of the fabric.
If you have a fat quarter, just line up the selvage to the mat, trim the edge to make it straight and start cutting using your favorite method.
Now, go forth and cut.
By the way, this is going to be the binding on my low volume quilt. I had to find something to cut up for you.
July 11, 2014 § 22 Comments
Quarter-inch seams. Why are they so important in quilting? While consistent seam width is important for simple quilts. It’s the good ol’ 1/4-inch standard that will guarantee better success when making complicated blocks.
Your machine may have one of these types of 1/4-inch presser feet above.
1. The foot that came with my Brother PQ-1500s.
2. The foot that was sold to me for my Featherweight when I took a maintenance class.
3. The foot I purchased off the Internet and comes with some brands of machines.
4. The method that my Janome uses to achieve a 1/4″ seam is a pre-programmed needle position. No special feet involved.
No. 1 is by far my favorite presser foot with No. 3 as a close second. No. 2 is my least favorite and I would rather go without a 1/4-inch foot altogether than try to work with it. And I could live with No. 4 if I had no other choice, but I would certainly prefer a special 1/4-inch foot far & above a pre-programmed needle position.
So let me explain why I have the opinions I do. You are free to form your own opinions and are under no obligation to change them just because I happen to prefer something else. Use what works for you.
I like presser foot No. 1 because it shows me where a 1/4″ seam is but doesn’t force me to follow it if I don’t want to. And the second bump on the right side is the guide for a 3/8″ seam, which is what I generally use when sewing binding, sort of. Or maybe making bags or some home deco type of item. It’s my go-to all-purpose foot. I like that extra little bit of width in the back to keep the fabric stable, yet it doesn’t intrude on achieving a 1/4″ seam when necessary.
Foot No. 2 is my least favorite because I’m not quite sure where a 1/4-inch really is. It has a hard edge guide on the right side that forces the fabric to go no further. What if I wanted to sew a 1/4-inch top stitching line? I can’t do it because the metal bar is in the way.
And do you see that little gap between the foot and the bar? It seems to ever so slightly slant out further in the front than in the back. So is the 1/4-inch in the back or the front? It makes me feel like I am constantly pulling the fabric one way or another when I’m sewing. And where is a scant 1/4-inch? That bar is in the way and I can’t see what I’m doing.
As you can tell, this presser foot really gets on my nerves.
And that is sort of why I am not overly fond of the pre-programmed needle position in No. 4 either. It’s much too fussy and I’m still not quite sure what is a full 1/4-inch and what is a scant 1/4-inch. I’m a visual person and I like to “see” what is going on. I don’t like computers telling me what they think I want. In quilting anyway. But I could learn to get used to it if I had to. It’s better than nothing.
So, now I’ve thrown another concept out there. What’s the difference between a full 1/4-inch and a scant 1/4-inch? A full 1/4-inch only includes the seam allowance from the thread to the cut edge without including the thread. A scant 1/4-inch is anything less than that. How scant does it need to be, you ask? Well. That depends on the thread you are using and the thickness of your fabric. It’s something that you need to learn for your own personal machine and your thread & fabric choices.
The above photo shows my scant 1/4-inch seam that includes the thread. It is what I need with this thread, and this fabric on this machine.
The objective is all about making the math add up. In theory, the above image is five 2 1/2-inch finished size squares sewn together plus a 1/4-inch seam allowance on each side. So the width needs to equal 5 x 2.5 + .5 for a total of 13 inches. When you sew it all together is your block at this point measuring 13 inches? What if you had twice as many seams and lost only 1 millimeter for each seam? Eight millimeters adds up to nearly a centimeter which is approximately 3/8-inch. So your block would be short by that measurement and it would be difficult to match up to whatever the next block might be. Certainly you can fudge. But then you may be sewing blocks together with only an 1/8-inch seam or less in places.
Additionally, if you have thick thread, every little millimeter of variance adds up. Thick fabric when pressed to one side is impossible to make completely flat without loosing a couple of millimeters or more. That little fold of fabric can take out a couple of millimeters, easily. Add on a few more seams and suddenly your block is not the size you thought it was going to be.
One trick to making flatter seams if there are a lot of tiny little seams is to press them open. Then only one fold of fabric is being taken in with the seam allowance rather than two. I don’t know if you can see the difference in the photo above. The left is the flattest seam and the right is the bulkiest seam. The middle is the average seam pressed towards one side and of medium thickness.
I prefer Aurifil 50-weight thread. It feels just a hair thinner than most thread and therefore adds just a smidge less to the seam allowance. The topic of thread could be a whole separate discussion.
In continuation of talking about 1/4-inch presser feet are the feed dogs underneath the feet that help you achieve the seam that you desire. These are the feed dogs on the above machines.
1. Brother PQ-1500s
3. My grandmothers Singer 15-91
4. Janome Horizon 7700
This is one of the reasons I prefer older, vintage machines for piecing quilts. Numbers 2 & 3 are vintage Singer machines. Do you see how close the feed dogs are? And that there is one that is extremely close to the needle hole? This helps to keep the fabric straight and flat while sewing small seams.
My Brother happens to follow in the footsteps of these vintage machines and one of the reasons why I love it so much for making quilts.
The Janome’s feed dogs are wider and farther from the needle hole. Which is not as favorable for sewing together small pieces of fabric with small seams. It’s great for sewing clothing and decorative stitches where you may have a lot of fabric being fed through. But it’s not so great for tiny little pieces with tiny little seams. To me, it feels like the fabric isn’t as stable under the presser foot as it could be. It feels like it has a little more room to slide around and shift during the process of sewing.
Well, I hope you found this interesting or useful. I could continue with more about leaders & enders, single hole plates vs. zig zag plates and thread. But this post is getting too long already. So those may need to be separate topics another day.
Meanwhile, sew on!
July 1, 2014 § 11 Comments
Recently a friend came over and helped me sort through all of my quilts. I have made a lot of quilts!
So I thought I would run a Summer Series on tips that could improve your piecing.
Let me just say that even though I know these things… sometimes I am lazy and I don’t do them. In the quilting world, rules are made to be broken. And there are many, many methods to accomplish the same thing. Try all of the methods and then choose the one that works for you. Okay? Good!
TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR PIECING
These are the topics I plan on covering. Newbie or seasoned quilter, it’s always good to have more knowledge under your belt. Then, you can proceed with that knowledge to reach your quilting goals.
- Quarter-inch seams – scant vs. full, thread, & more
- Accurate cutting – squaring up fabric, rulers, & measuring
- Pressing vs. ironing – dry irons, finger pressing & pressing direction of seams
- Matching intersecting points & point trimmers
- Maintaining your machine in good working order
BTW, those photos above are my test run at making a feathered star… in preparation to making the Star of Chamblie quilt. It was a good exercise. I’ll blog about that experience sometime this summer as well. I think this block will make a great a pillow!