Whether you are a ‘newbie quilter’ or an ‘old pro’ sometimes the concept of a scant 1/4″ seam allowance can be confusing. And an accurate scant 1/4″ seam allowance is called for in the instructions for all the FLOCK blocks and for the Practice Unit.
A Practice Unit kit is included in each and every FLOCK bird block kit with the hope that this small unit will get you comfortable sewing accurate scant 1/4″ seams along bias fabric edges before you dive in to sewing your FLOCK Bird Block.
What is a Scant 1/4″ Seam Allowance Anyway?
Ask 10 people and you’ll get 10 different answers. Here’s my answer. A scant 1/4″ seam allowance is a 1/4″ seam less one or two thread-widths. The scant 1/4″ seam is smaller than a full 1/4″ seam to accommodate the thickness of the fabric in the turn of the fold as the fabric is pressed over the thread.
The Scant 1/4″ Using 2″ Scrap Square
(Thank goodness I have lots of those hanging around!)
I like to use lots of visual cues as I sew. I like a quarter inch foot, but I don’t like to rely on that all by itself, and I prefer a foot without the guide on the side. I also look for markings on the stitch plate or sewing machine bed. And I make sure the needle position is consistent (centered, in my case).
Keep in mind, these are my preferences based on my equipment and sewing experience. Everyone needs to find their own visual cues.
Before I rely on any marking or foot edge, I test, Here are three different sets of 2″ scrap squares. The one on the left is slightly more than a 1/4″ seam, the one in the middle is a 1/4″ seam, and the one on the right is a scant 1/4″ seam. Notice that the difference between them is only one or two thread widths. When sewing large pieces of fabric, I would consider any one of these seams ‘accurate’ – but when sewing lots of small seams, a variance can add up.
Looking straight down onto the three seams, I lined up each seam with the 1/4″ dashed line on my ruler. For the sample on the left, notice that the fabric edge sticks out just a thread width or two below the ruler edge. The one in the middle looks pretty spot on – the edge of the fabric and the edge of the ruler are lined up nearly exactly. And the sample on the right, with the exception of a few strands of fabric fray, the edge of the ruler extends ever so slightly beyond the fabric edge at the bottom.
Here is another view of this same set up. Remember the 1/4″ line on the ruler is aligned with each of the seams.
What happens when these samples are pressed – accurate pressing is important too! Two 2″ squares sewn together, then pressed should measure 2×3-1/2″. That means the seam should be 1-3/4″ from the lower or upper fabric edge. For each of my samples, I aligned the 1-3/4″ mark with the pressed seam. Observe the slight variation in the measurements – particularly along the bottom edge of the ruler. Again, If I were sewing these elements into a quilt, I wouldn’t be too worried about any of these samples – they are all, generally speaking, pretty darn close to 2×3-1/2″, but these little variations may make a difference when piecing lots of tiny seams in a block.
Here is another view. Can you see the difference? The sample on the far right has the scant 1/4″ seam. Notice how accurate it is!
The Practice Unit
Now, back to the FLOCK Practice Unit. Each unit in the Practice Unit and in the block kits are laser cut and identified by letter. Pattern details help identify unit labels.
To facilitate the laser cutting, the shapes are attached to the fabric edges by little fabric bridges – they are like skips in the cut line, but they are on-purpose to keep things from becoming a mess of squares and rectangles all over the place! With scissors, snip the bridges to separate the piecing elements.
Following the pattern details, arrange the elements on your worksurface. Notice the notches cut into the seam allowance, the notches tell you which way is up for each of the units.
Remember all that testing we did with the 2″ scrap squares? Use your visual cues to sew the Practice Unit seams.
For the FLOCK blocks, the Clover Mini Iron (aff. link) is my favorite tool to get right into those seams to make sure the pressing is as accurate as possible for the FLOCK piecing.
After you sew and press, replace the sewn elements back into the unit arrangement on your worksurface. Don’t forget, notches up!
The elements are laser cut so all the edges align perfectly before sewing. Use pins to secure the layers if you are comfortable using them.
Once the two practice unit seams are sewn, the Practice Unit pattern has a full-scale illustration so you can check your work by laying the fabric unit on top of the illustration. If everything aligns properly then you are ready to sew your bird block!
If not, it’s so much better to diagnose the problem and fix your visual cues before digging in to your next FLOCK project! If the fabric unit is too large then your scant seam is probably too small, if your unit is too small, than your scant seams are too big.
Remember . . . Breathe! It’s only fabric! This is supposed to be fun!