Sewing an accurate 1/4 inch seam

Up until about a year ago, one of the most frustrating things to me about quilting was that no matter how carefully I would measure and sew, my blocks would always come out too small. This made it pretty much impossible to participate in bees and swaps as I could not manage to fulfill the size requirements.

Fed up, I searched, read, and did about a little experimenting, and now I feel like I am finally piecing fairly accurately. I am still not perfect or doing "precision quilting" by any measure, but I don't really have the right temperament for that kind of thing anyway. I just want my blocks to be the right size, fit together, and line up properly without a lot of fudging and swearing under my breath.

Now, if you are actually interested in super-accurate piecing, you will probably benefit by watching Sally Collins' "Precision Piecing" video on The Quilt Show. I definitely picked up a few new tips that I hope will help me the next time I try to make a really intricate block. She also has a book, "Mastering Precision Piecing"that likely has even more tips than the show.

I should also mention that because I am fairly lazy, I am almost never super-precise when the extra care doesn't pay off. For example, in improv piecing I just sew as fast as I can without worrying about the size of the seam, as long as it is more than about 1/8 to 3/16 of an inch so it doesn't come apart. So don't feel like you have to do everything I describe below, exactly as written, every time for every seam. Just be careful when it counts. I tend to think if you can sew a block to measure within  of an inch of what you wanted, you are doing ok. 

Anyway, in this post I want to focus on the critical components of accurate piecing: cutting, lining up the fabric, stitching, and pressing. Each is important to do properly if you want an accurate block. Below I will talk about each of these things in a little more detail. I will also run you through a little sewing test that should only take about a half an hour and will hopefully greatly increase your accuracy.

Before I start, though, I want to point out that there are many different ways to do things in the world of quilting, and what I describe below is what has worked for me. I am posting this in the hopes that it might help others that might be frustrated like I was. If you do things a slightly different way and it works for you, then great!
If you want to just skip to the test, all the steps are set off like this.


I think one of the most important things is cutting accurately. You can sew an extremely accurate seam, but if the pieces weren't the right size to begin with, it won't matter. I used to measure as carefully as I could, but I would center the black line on the edge of the fabric. As it turns out, it works better for some people (including me) to measure with the black line entirely on the edge of the fabric, as in the photo below.
Cut two pieces of fabric exactly 2 inches wide by 4 inches high. Choose two different medium to light colors so you will be able to see your results clearly.
Measure your fabric with the black line all the way on the fabric.

Lining up your fabric 

When you are lining up your fabric, be sure that the edges are precisely aligned. When you look at the fabric from above, you should not see the other fabric showing at the edge. You should be able to do this from both sides.
Line up your two pieces of fabric along the long edge. 
Make sure your edges are lined up precisely.

Stitching your seam 

When you feed your fabric into your machine, whether you are chain piecing or not, lift your presser foot and place your fabric right up to the needle instead of letting it be pulled in from the front of the foot. When you just let your fabric be pulled in, the first couple of stitches tend to be crooked. If your machine has a needle up/down setting, have it set to the needle down position.

Lift your presser foot and position your fabric right at the needle.

Another seam accuracy problem can arise if you let go of your fabric for the last few stitches. These stitches will then also tend to be crooked, especially on triangular/irregular pieces. To fix this, continue to hold onto your fabric until it is all the way through and past the needle. If you have pieces where there is not much to hold onto (like triangles or curves), use a bamboo skewer, an awl, a stiletto, or a seam ripper to hold the fabric down and guide it through the last few stitches.
Attach your piecing foot to your machine (for example, I use a ¼ inch foot that has a metal guide down the side). Leave your needle position in the center and carefully stitch your fabric pair down the long edge. Try to sew as straight as possible.
If you do not have a quilting foot with a guide, you can make your own guide out of sticky notes, a few layers of masking tape, or even sticky-backed craft foam and stick it to your sewing machine at the ¼ inch mark. There is also a product called Qtools Sewing Edgethat is a reusable vinyl guide that looks pretty handy.


I will admit, I am definitely guilty of using lots of ironing and steam to try to tame a seam even though I know you aren't supposed to. However, it really does distort the pieces and will affect your accuracy. 

If you press to the side, place your fabric on your ironing board with the fabric you want to press the seam toward on top. If you press open, it doesn't matter which fabric is on top. Press with a dry iron for a few seconds by just lifting up the iron and setting it down, not by moving it back and forth. Pressing while the seam is closed "sets the seam" and gives you a nicer finish.

Press your fabric while it is still closed to set the seam.
Then, open your fabric up and finger press—run your fingernail or thumbnail down the seam to completely open it up and flatten it. This works best on a harder surface. Angle your nail a bit so the seam gets completely opened; it might take a little practice. If you prefer, you could also buy a woodenor plastictool, or just use half of a wooden clothespin. If you press your seams open, finger press the seam on the back open as well.

Finger press your seam open before pressing with your iron.
Now press your seam with a dry iron by lifting and repositioning the iron instead of sliding it around. Let your fabric cool without moving it or it will not stay flat. If you are having trouble with it not staying flat, place a ruler or book on top of the still hot seam to weigh it down until it is cool.

Press your test fabrics open. Whether you press the seam open or to the side doesn't matter for this test.

Checking your needle or guide position  

The last thing to do is to measure your joined fabric to see how accurate your seam guide is. If it is not accurate, you will need to move your guide and/or adjust your needle position to compensate.
Your test fabric should now measure exactly 3½ inches wide and 4 inches tall. If it does, you don't need to adjust your needle position and you are done! If it doesn't, go on to the next step.
In the photo below, I replicated how I used to cut and sew. I used the center of the black line against the edge of my fabric while cutting, and then just sewed the seam with my ¼ inch foot, with the needle in the center position and the fabric feeding against the guide on this "¼ inch foot". I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do. No wonder I was getting so frustrated!

I was off by a little over 1/16 of an inch after just one seam—I had no hope of accurately stitching a block with multiple seams. On a log cabin block with just four rounds, this discrepancy would add up to the block being ½ inch too small!

The next photo shows the immediate improvement that is made by cutting with the black line fully on the edge of the fabric. Now it is only off by about 1/32 of an inch. If this was a one or two seam block, that might be good enough. However, on that same four round log cabin block, it would still wind up being about ¼ of an inch too small.

Adjusting your needle position 

The last thing you can do to to get your seams just right is to adjust the needle position on your machine. A quilting foot, with or without a guide, has just a little hole. I thought the needle had to be right in the center, but it doesn't. It turns out that on my machine I can move the needle by a full 1mm in either direction without the needle hitting the foot. When you adjust your needle, do be careful and move the needle down with the flywheel before stitching to check that your needle is clear of the foot.

If you think that you cannot move your needle position, try adjusting the "width" of your straight stitch. Sometimes that will do it. If not, then you might need to get by with just attaching a guide to the throat of your machine and moving the guide until you find the right position.
To finish up the test, cut yourself a new set of 2 by 4 inch pieces of fabric. Start by moving your needle position one click to the right if your earlier piece of fabric was too small, and one to the left if it was too big. Stitch your seam, press, and measure again.

If your block measures exactly 3½ inches, you are done! Write down what needle position was perfect on a piece of masking tape or sticky note and put it on your machine to remind you.

If your fabric is still off, cut two more pieces, adjust your needle one more click and try again.
This last photo is following all the steps above, and then moving my needle position to the right by 0.5mm. To me, this is happiness :)

Member spotlight: Nikol

Nikol is the current president of the Minneapolis Modern Quilt Guild.
Tell us about yourself.
I am originally from out west, I've lived in CA, WA, ID, MT and NV all before joining the Air Force. I moved to Mpls about 12 years ago from Texas with my two boys who are 18 & 15. I also have 3 pets, two dogs and a cat. My day job is running my business Sewtropolis, which is pretty much also my night job.
Do you have a blog, Etsy shop, or other quilt-related business?
You can visit my store webpage at, I also have a etsy store under the same name: Sewtropolis
Do you have any other hobbies, crafty or otherwise?
Quilting and sewing have always been my main hobbies. I also like to bake, garden, re-upholster furniture and can jams & jellies.
How long have you been quilting, and how did you learn to quilt?
I have been sewing since I was about 9 years old, but quilting about 20. My grandma was a quilter and I always admired the quilts she did. I thought to myself "How hard could that be?" Turns out not hard at all once I found a beginners project. (never start with triangles)
How many quilts do you think you have made? How many are still UFOs (unfinished objects)?
Wow, tough question. I have made quilts for all my friends, all their kids, my kids 3-4 times over, and myself... I'd say over 20 years I have finished 30-40 quilts. I narrowed down my UFO last year so my best guestimate is I have around 10 UFOs now.
How many hours a week do you spend quilting on average?
Sadly not as many hours as I'd like to spend. I'd say 4-5 hours on average. I try to sew whenever I get a few minutes here and there.
Describe your first quilt.
My first quilt was a disaster, it and all the fabric I bought for it ended up at Goodwill! It took me about a year to give quilting another chance. My second quilt was a simple framed block. I fussy cut the center fabric (which were bears dressed as clowns if I remember right) into 6" squares and then put borders on it. It was such a success that I was hooked after that!
Which of your quilts is your favorite or are you most proud of and why?
My last quilt is always my favorite. However, a few years ago I took a fabric dying class and used the fabrics from the class (and subsequent dyeing adventures) into a king size quilt that is now in the store. It was truly a labor of love, as it's a king size and I quilted it on my home machine. It took be 3 full days of quilting at Quilt Retreat!

Where do you sew? Describe your space and your favorite quilting accompaniments.
I sew in my basement. It's not ideal, but after 30+ years of sewing I have accumulated a lot of stuff. I have a large cutting table, shelving for all my fabric, large ironing table and hutch that I designed and had made specifically to hold my stuff. When I sew I like to sip on wine and watch Dateline or Law & Order. If those two shows aren't on I'll usually plug in a movie that I've seen before since I won't be paying much attention to it anyway. As ideal as this sounds my space is in a basement with very tiny windows and horrible lighting! I also get side-tracked by the washer and dryer and all the laundry that needs to get done.
Describe your fabric buying habits and stash. How do you manage your stash?
Before owning a store I would buy any fabric that jumped out at me. I accumulated quite a few fat quarters since those were the easiest way to build my stash and I did a lot of 'patchwork' type quilting. When I found a quilt pattern that I wanted to make then I'd do out and buy fabric specifically for that project. Now that I own a fabric store, I end up bringing home lots of 'end of bolt' pieces. If there is fabric that I really, really like then I'll cut a yard or two and bring it home - but those usually end up in clothing. I don't manage my stash very well. One of my goals this year is to get it under control and develop a way to get it better organized into bins - on shelves!
What are your favorite and least favorite things about quilting?
My favorite thing about quilting is that I can spend hours and hours at it, feeling lucky that I have a few minutes to 'relax' and at the end of all this 'relaxing' I have something beautiful and functional. I don't think there is one thing that I don't like about quilting..... other than not having enough time to do it.
What are your current and/or long-term quilting goals?
I want to learn how to use a long arm. I quilt all my quilts on my home sewing machine and I think using a long arm would be faster and give them a more professional look.
What is one (or more) quilt technique you would like to learn or are afraid of?
I don't tend to be afraid of trying a new technique, but I have learned my limits on what my capabilities are. One of the reasons I love quilting so much is because I know how to do it and it's a way for me to relax. I know that if I have to think too hard to create a quilt, then I probably won't finish it because I don't have the brain muscles left at the end of the day to dedicate to.
Who or what inspires you most in quilting?
Other dedicated quilters and the beautiful quilts they create inspire me the most. Right now I'd say I admire Elizabeth Hartman of "" the most. Her designs are original and the fabrics she uses are always perfect choices.
What advice do you have for new quilters?
If your first experience wasn't a good one - keep at it.

July's 10 Minute Tip: Jen's Method for Applique

Hi Folks.  I’m Jen from Stitch Simple and I’m posting today about my method for appliqué that I shared at our July MMQG meeting last week as the monthly 10 minute tip.  Appliqué is one of those sewing techniques that parallel chocolate chip cookies- everyone has a slightly different approach but the results are consistently delicious.  In addition to allowing you to create intricate designs on quilts, appliqué is useful for patchwork repairs on garments as well as delightful accents on home décor items, handbags and accessories.  Today I’ll demonstrate how I used appliqué to create a little scene on a toy car travel pouch for my son:

Toy Car Travel Pouch adapted from this tutorial for a travel jewelry pouch by Coats Crafts UK
 First off, you’ll need to gather your materials.  Here’s what you need:
-Plain white paper
-Enough fabric to create your desired design (appliqué is a great use for scraps)
-Single sided fusible interfacing (you will need the same amount as the fabric)
-Iron, scissors (both fabric and paper scissors), fabric marking tools, pencil, sewing machine….the usual sewing accoutrement.

It helps to brainstorm ideas on regular white paper first.  Simply cut out your sketches and then place them on the item you are affixing the appliqué to so you can decide where to place it and get a feel for the finished look without wasting fabric.

Once you are happy with your idea, take your white paper pattern piece and place it right side down on top of the wrong side of the fabric.  Trace around the pattern piece with water soluble ink, pencil or chalk (I’m personally a fan of these marking pencils).  This will be your sewing line.  Now, trace around the pattern piece again ¼” outside the sewing line.  This will be your cut line.  Repeat these steps on your fusible interfacing, but place your white paper pattern piece right side up on top of the wrong side of the interfacing (the right side of the interfacing for our purpose today is the sticky side which you should be able to discern by feeling the glue dots).  Once your fabric and interfacing have been marked, cut out your appliqué shapes from both materials.

Now take your interfacing piece and cut a slit or “X” shaped hole somewhere near the center.  We will use this for turning later on and no one will be able to see it… so don’t worry if it isn’t pretty.  If your piece is really long and narrow (like the road in my toy car travel pouch) forgo the “X” and just cut a slit (if you have room for an “X” it makes life easier, but some shapes don’t really allow for it).

Place the interfacing and fabric pieces right sides together and sew around the entire shape using the stitch line as a guide (it will be a ¼” seam allowance, but I find sewing to the line is easier especially when I’m working with irregular shapes like my little lake here).  You don’t need to leave an opening in your stitching, we are going to use our slit/ “X” shaped hole for that.  I prefer to sew with the interfacing side up so I can see my dark graphite pencil sewing line better and my machine’s feed dogs seem to prefer I do it this way.

Trim any pointy corners and notch any sharp indents (I always remember it as “trim the mountains and notch the valleys”) so your shape will lie flat after turning.

Turn the appliqué right side out through the slit or “X” hole in the interfacing.  Chopsticks are handy for making sure it is fully turned. Sometimes small items present a challenge in terms of getting the interfacing to lie flat and not stick out from behind the fabric.  In these cases you can hand sew the slit or “X” hole closed with a few whipstitches to make it behave better for you.

Finger press the appliqué in the desired location, making sure that the hole in the interfacing lies flat and doesn’t create any ripples or bumps on the front.  When you are sure you like the placement, press it into place with an iron.

To finish, all you need to do is stitch the appliqué onto the finished item.  I use two distinct methods for this, depending on how much I need to hide the stitching.  The first method (and the fastest) is to simply edge stitch with your machine around the edge of the appliqué with a 1/8” seam allowance.  That’s what I did for my toy car travel pouch, since I constructed it in a way that would hide the bobbin stitches and I liked the look of the top stitching on the front.  There are lots of possibilities for machine stitching.  You can use matching thread or contrasting thread, depending on the look you are shooting for.  If you have lots of embroidery capabilities on your machine, this is a good place to experiment with them.

Some people also use invisible thread and the machine’s blind hem function so as to conceal the stitching on the front… machine blind hems have never been what you’d call my bag (just ask any of my Sewing 1 students) so if I want to conceal the stitches, I do it by hand.  I use a stitch I like to think of as a hybrid ladder stitch/blind stitch.  First, single thread your needle and knot one end.  Insert the needle at your starting point on the wrong side of the background fabric and pull it to the right side very near to the edge of the appliqué piece- but without actually sewing through the appliqué piece.

Now insert your needle into the edge of the appliqué piece right above the exit hole you just made and run the needle and thread along the inside of the turned edge of the appliqué for about ¼” before exiting and pulling the thread through.

This one tuned out a little blurry, but hopefully you can still see how the thread should run along the inside of the turned edge of the applique piece

Place your needle through the background fabric right below the exit hole grabbing only a couple/three threads.  Pull the thread through.

Repeat the stitch until your appliqué is sewn around the entire perimeter.  Knot the end of your thread on the wrong side of the piece.  You can also hide the end knot (as well as the start knot) along the edge of the appliqué if you don’t want it to show on the wrong side of the project. 

And that’s it.  I hope you enjoyed reading this post and that I inspired you to give appliqué a try if you aren’t already hooked on this technique.  For those who are, please post comments telling us your tips and tricks…like any good recipe new twists keep it interesting.

Making Bias Tape

Hi! I'm Vanessa from Punkin Patterns. I'm thrilled to be posting here on the Minneapolis Modern Quilt Guild (MMQG) blog. I love being a member of the MMQG. I love getting to know other quilters and sewers who live near me and who all inspire me!  Today I'm going to show you how simple it is to make your own beautiful bias tape -- the perfect finish to your modern quilts!

beautiful bias tape

Making your own bias tape is very easy.  It's less expensive than buying it at the store and far more attractive!

Bias tape is used in making piping, finishing raw edges and of, course in binding a quilt.  There are lots of different widths depending on the use.  There is single fold bias tape where the two raw edges are folded toward the center, with wrong sides together, pressed in place.  Double fold bias tape is just single fold bias tape which is folded in half again, hiding the single folds, and pressed in place. 

To make bias tape, you can purchase small bias tape making tips like these for less than $10.

bias tape maker tips

They are inexpensive and you just need the size you want and an iron.  I typically only use the 1" tip.

bias tape tips 2

There are also machines available to help you make bias tape which I'll be talking about briefly at the end of this post, but for the most part, the manual methods work just fine.

For this tutorial, I'll be making bias tape from a fat quarter, but what I'll be showing you can be easily applied to a yard of fabric right off the bolt.  Also note there are many ways to do this -- this is what I do and what I find the simplest.  There are some methods out there that sew your fabric into a loop and then you cut a long continuous strip (like you're peeling an apple), but I find that to be a bit more tedious since you need to mark your fabric, then once sewn, cut with scissors which can be a but more time consuming if you're making a lot of bias tape at once.

You can get over 4.5 yards of seam binding from one fat quarter if you're making 1" single fold bias tape -- more if you're making smaller bias tape.  I got roughly 15 yards of 1 1/4" bias tape from a 1 yard cut of fabric.  So, yes, much less expensive than the stuff in the store!

Take your fat quarter and identify the selvage versus the cut side.  The selvage is the finished edge of the fabric formed during the production of the fabric.  The cut side is the side that's cut off the bolt for you at the store.

 Note:: In this photo the cut edges are all serged - simply because I pre-washed  and didn't want the raw edges to fray too much.  If you do this, the serged stitches should be cut off as they can be difficult to fit into the bias tape maker tips and they add unwanted bulkiness to your finished bias tape.

fat quarter

Fold the fabric so that the cut edge of one side lines up with the other, creating a 45 degree angle, which is the bias of the fabric.  Cutting on the bias makes the finished tape stretchier and it drapes better when compared to a strip that is cut on the grain.

fold your fabric

Using scissors, cut along that folded edge of the bias.

cut along the bias

Now you'll have two pieces.

cut in two

So we don't waste any fabric, we're going to sew these two pieces back together into a parallelogram.  If the selvage is still on, make sure to trim that off OR sew a wider seam allowance so that doesn't show in your final seam binding.

join together

Place the right sides together and sew.

place right sides together

Open it up and press flat with an iron and you have your piece ready to cut into strips.

ready for cutting

Cut your fabric into strips, parallel to the bias edge.  The strip width is dependant upon what tip you're using and how wide you want your finished bias tape.  Since I'm using a 1" tip, I'll be cutting my strips to be 2" wide (2x the size of my tip). 

cut strips

Now you'll need to sew your strips together into one long continuous strip.  To do this, lay your strips, right sides together, as shown.  If you line them up end to end, they actually won't come together correctly.  You can think of it this way::  you're lining up the edges along your seam allowance.  So if you're using a 1/4" seam allowance, you'll be lining them up 1/4" from the end (where the sew line is marked).

sewing strips together

When you open it up it looks like this (just trim the extra bits off before use):

joining seam

Alternatively, you could do this:
Trim the ends of your strips so they're rectangles.

another way to join

Place the strips, right sides together, at right angles.  Sew the two strips together at a 45 degree angle (along the dotted line).

another way to join 2

Trim the excess fabric and open to get a nice single strip.

joining seam 2

Repeat will all your strips (using either method) until you have one long continuous strip.

one long contiuous strip

Now grab your bias tape tip and your iron.  Feed the end of the continuous strip into the tip.  You may need to use a needle the the little window to help push your fabric through.  Tip:: Having a well ironed and starched end of the fabric helps too.  Pull it through a little bit to get it started.


Iron your newly folded fabric as you're pulling the metal loop on the bias tip maker.


When you're done, you'll have single fold bias tape.

single fold bias tape

To make double fold bias tape, simply fold in half, hiding the other folded edges and iron in place.

fold in half to make bias tape

To store your beautiful new bias tape, I like to wrap it around an empty toilet paper roll or a piece of a wrapping paper roll.  This way you won't have any creases in your tape when you want to use it.  When you've wrapped up the length of your tape, simply tuck the end under.

finished bias tape

You can also use a machine (like this Simpliciy Bias Tape Maker).

Simplicity bias tape maker

This is a great option if you'll be making a lot of your own bias tape, however it is a bit more expensive to start, and you have to purchase their special bias tips which fit into the machine.  Also, there isn't an easy way to make your single fold bias tape into double fold bias tape.  I tried the manufactures suggestion of putting it back through one side of the tip, but I had trouble getting the double width of the fabric through the tip and it didn't want to stay to one side.  As a result the bias tape wasn't always (actually hardly ever) folded exactly in half.  I tried it without a tip and just ran it through the machine trying to use my hands to get it to fold in half.  It worked better, but not good enough.  So in the end, I grabbed my ironing board and iron and did it the old fashioned way.

That said, it did make the single fold bias tape super fast!!

make it faster

Hope you enjoyed this tutorial!!  Now you'll be making your own beautiful bias tape!

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