The Ultimate Guide to Precision Piecing April 15 2020
The Ultimate Guide to Precision Piecing by Charlotte Noll (@kirkenoll #charlottenollquilts)
Having trouble to getting your seams to match or your points to line up perfectly? Are your blocks too big or too small? These are common problems that can be avoided with precision piecing.
Spend less time reverse sewing (un-sewing) your blocks using these tips for Precision Piecing.
1: A Little Preparation Goes a Long Way
Getting your proverbial Sewing Machine Ducks in a row before you sew will prevent a lot of headaches along the way.
- It’s a good idea to clean and oil your sewing machine according to instructions before starting a project. Then stitch on some scrap fabric to make sure any oil residue is removed.
- Use the correct needle for your project. For regular quilting cotton use a new 70/10 Microtex (Sharp) sewing machine needle.
- It is also important to use quality thread. My favorite thread for machine piecing is Aurifil 50wt thread - thin, strong and very little lint.
- Cut your fabric pieces as accurately as possible. You can find tips and tricks with my Guide to Precision Cutting.
- Use a short stitch length so the seams hold well and thread doesn’t show. Test it out by spreading the seam to check that you don’t see the thread. Don’t make it so tight that it puckers the fabric or you can never un-sew if you need to. Every machine is different so you just have to experiment with yours.
- Make sure you are sewing with a true ¼” seam. There are online tutorials for checking your ¼” seams. I always use a ¼” seam presser foot for my sewing machine, and I also line up my fabric with the thread guide line which I verified is very accurate.
2: Pin Away
I’m an old school Pinner. It does take time, but I find it's sufficient if I pin at the beginning and end of a seam and anywhere where matching is needed. Too many pins can distort your piece so don't go overboard.
To match seams, this is the method I use to pin and sew:
- Line up the seams.
- If I really want to verify it’s lining up correctly I pin horizontally across the seam then flip to check and make adjustments as needed.
- Put 2 pins on either side of the intersection and then remove the horizontal pin so you can sew.
- It helps to sew with the side that has the most opposing and matching seams facing you so that you can make sure you keep them flat and open. Also watch for the seams that have points so you don’t sew the tips off.
For points, I pin as described above, sewing across the seam at the points.
3: Press, Don't Iron
Pressing the sewn seams is a very important step to achieve precision in your piecing. While the terms are used interchangeably, pressing and ironing are two different techniques. Ironing uses a back and forth sliding motion while pressing is placing the iron on the fabric, holding it there and then removing. Here are some tips for pressing your piece:
- Press the newly sewn seam to set the stitches flat.
- Usually I press the seams open (unless directed otherwise) to reduce bulk and avoid shadowing.
- I use a Strip Stick to help press the longish seams open without disturbing the rest of the block.
- For bulky seam intersections, I use The Wacker Hammer to help flatten them if possible.
- When a block/row is completed I like to give it a final press on a wool pressing mat or a big fluffy towel using just a little Magic Sizing or your favorite pressing spray to flatten all the seams nicely.
4: Verify Measurements and Layout
At each piecing step, measure the unit to make sure it is the correct size - trim or block if just a little bit off. If it’s off by a lot then go back and check your cut pieces and stitching method. Checking at each step will avoid the finished block and quilt from being way off size and ensure that your seams match when joining units together.
At each stage, also step back and take pictures. This will show you how your quilt really looks. You can also change the picture to black/white to look at color values. This step is also great for recreating a layout that you liked or verifying the one you want to sew.
- When you have your block layout just right you want to sew them together exactly that way. These flower head pins with numbers written in Sharpie help me keep the blocks/rows organized before I sew them. I’ve tried several methods to sew them correctly but somehow I get them mixed up unless I’m using these pins.
The most important tip...enjoy your fabric and the process of making quilts. If something goes wrong, you can fix it - or not. It’s all good!
Now that you know some tips for piecing your quilts, get to work making something amazing.
Do you have any tips you would like to share?
About Charlotte Noll
Charlotte has been sewing since she was a young girl and made all her own clothes. She made her first quilt when she moved to Florida in 1980 and needed something for her king-size waterbed. She's been hooked since! Charlotte loves fabric, thread, buttons, and beads! She can't pass up a challenge or call for entry. Charlotte has made many traditional and art quilts but now her eye is tracking the modern style.