Most quilters can’t wait for the sewing to begin. Cutting can be tedious, but I think everyone agrees, we all do this for the sewing.
I never mind doing the cutting. To me, it’s the beginning of a new journey. A fresh start. The chance to feel the fabric between my fingers and see the fabric prints from a new perspective as the pieces are cut.
We’ll do a little more cutting once we get the blocks done, but for now, let’s sew.
The sewing IS the fun stuff, but when you are learning something new, some of the steps can be confusing. So if you feel your brain asking yourself more questions than you can answer. . . .
STOP! Every bit of this hobby is supposed to be fun. . . .
ASK! Help is just a comment or two away. . . .
TAKE YOUR TIME. Enjoy the journey.
And so we begin . . .
A Test Two-Patch
This whole quilting thing basically revolves around an accurate 1/4″ seam. So, first, attach a quarter-inch foot to your sewing machine. If you don’t have one, get one. It’s just that important. There are ways around using a 1/4″ foot, but why start with tricks and complications?
And really, in the long run, you will want to perfect a scant 1/4″ seam – just a thread width or two less than a 1/4″ seam. This will accommodate the thickness of the pressed fabric. (Don’t worry if that doesn’t make sense, just roll with it for now.)
Every sewing machine might be a little different, but if you can move the needle position, you’ll want it set right smack in the middle to start.
Thread the machine with a neutral color cotton thread through the needle and the bobbin. Refer to the manual that came with the sewing machine for assistance, if you need it. If you don’t have your manual, check online on the machine manufacturer’s website.
Set aside your beautifully cut fabrics for just a moment; dig into your scrap fabrics and retrieve two 2″ scrap squares of fabric. If you don’t have any scraps, you should have a few leftovers from the cutting for the project. Don’t worry if the colors don’t match or even if the scraps are both cut from the same fabric. This is only going to be used to test your seam.
Place your two squares right sides (pretty sides) together, with all edges aligned. If you can, put your needle position in ‘needle down’ mode. Lift your presser foot and insert the fabric so the right edge of the fabric is aligned with the right edge of the 1/4″ foot. Insert the fabric under the presser foot right up against the needle (assuming it’s in needle-down position).
With your right index finger, reach back and hold onto the two thread tails, one from the needle and one from the bobbin. You only have to hold these as you sew the first two or three stitches. This just keeps the sewing machine from sucking the thread ends into the needle plate on the sewing machine bed. Then gently press the foot pedal and sew a 1/4″ seam.
Lift the presser foot (which releases the thread so you can pull on it) pull the block away, and snip the top and bobbin thread. It should look like this. Notice that the scraps are still 2″ square, and the seam is just a teeny-tiny bit over the 1-3/4″ mark on the ruler – that’s a scant 1/4″ inch.
Now, it’s time to press. If at the end of the day, your block isn’t the right size, it always (“always” is like “never” – it’s another one of those words that you shouldn’t say very much in quilting, but in this case, it’s appropriate) comes down to three things (maybe four) – 1) cutting accuracy, 2) seam allowance accuracy, 3) pressing accuracy. Sometimes, something is wrong with the pattern you’re following, but I’d be sure to eliminate the first three problems before you blame the pattern.
So, first, place your two-patch (that’s what you just sewed) on the ironing board. Take a hot iron, and place it on top (don’t rub back and forth), and count . . 1 . . 2 . . 3. Lift the iron. That ‘sets’ or compresses the newly sewn seam.
Next, finger press the upper fabric away from you. Again, no rubbing the iron back and forth. A dry, hot iron is best. If you feel you need to use steam, a little puff is all you need. Notice the red arrow shows the seam pressing direction.
Now get out the ruler and measure. And here’s where we learn a little quilter’s math. 2″ + 2″ = 3-1/2″ . . . Huh? If you start with two 2″ squares, and sew them with a 1/4″ seam, you will loose 1/2″ (or 1/4″ from each 2″ square) because of the seam allowance. (Don’t worry if this doesn’t make sense right now, roll with it.)
And here’s the test two-patch from the back. Notice that the seam is pressed in one direction. The seam is nice and flat, no extra folds or twists.
If your test block is too small – if it is something less than 3-1/2″ – that means your seam is probably larger than 1/4″. Go back and move your sewing machine needle position to the right a hair and try the test again, start to finish.
If your test block is too large – if it is larger than 3-1/2″ – that means your seam is probably smaller than 1/4″ – go back and move your sewing machine needle position to the left a tiny bit and try the test again.
If the needle position on your sewing machine is fixed, adjust how you are using the edge of the 1/4″ foot. You may have to visually adjust the way you feed your fabric along the edge of the presser foot to make your seem a little bit smaller or a little big larger.
If your seam allowance is good, but your pressing isn’t quite right, take another look at how you press.
You will save a lot of frustration later by getting your test two-patch right.
One more thing. You’ll notice that I pressed my seam toward the lighter fabric. Remember this was just a test seam. Typically there are a couple rules about pressing – but these have lots of exceptions. First rule is, typically, press the seam to the darker fabric. Second rule, press away from multiple seams (we’ll see this later as we piece the quilt top together). One thing that may be somewhat controversial – but it’s a rule I try to follow – with a few exceptions, never press seams open. This post is already too long for me to explain the reasoning on this point. And at this point, you probably really only want to get to the sewing machine! Right?
aj (aunt joan)