In quilting, one of the most important techniques to master is the quarter-inch seam. It is also one of the hardest. Even experienced quilters struggle with their seam allowances. There are some tricks and tools that will help you master the perfect quarter-inch seam. Perfect seam allowances, combined with accurate cutting and proper pressing techniques, will result in blocks that are square, points that line up and quilts that are perfect every time.
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Here are three ways to master the quarter-inch seam:
1. Quarter-inch foot
Most newer machines come with a quarter inch foot, but many older machines do not. If you don’t have a quarter inch foot for your sewing machine, it is worth the investment. The quarter-inch foot allows you to line up fabric with the edge of the foot to achieve a quarter-inch seam. Each quarter-inch foot might be a little different. Use a piece of template plastic to see where exactly on your foot the seam falls. Is it just inside the foot, right at the edge or just outside?
If you don’t have template plastic, you can use a ruler. Gently use the flywheel to lower the needle until it touches the ruler at the quarter-inch mark.
2. Tape your machine
A quarter-inch foot will help your seam allowances, but if you find your seams are still off, make sure you are lining up your fabric properly. You can use Glow-Line tape or masking tape to mark the quarter-inch seam on your machine, leading up to the foot.
This gives you a much longer edge for lining up your fabric, and if you keep your fabric against this line, you can be sure that when it arrives under the needle, the seam will be perfect.
3. Checking your seam allowance
The quickest way to check your seam allowance is to use a ruler to measure the seam. However, you’ll want to take it a step further to be sure that your finished block measures true. After stitching, press your seam. Measure the newly stitched piece. The width should be the width of the two pieces, minus .1/2″. For example — a 2″ piece and a 3″ piece would be 4.5″ wide.
If your piece is to wide or too narrow, it may indicate an issue with cutting or pressing or it may be caused by the bulk of the thread. When seams are pressed to the side, one layer of fabric is pressed over the seam and seam allowance. The bulk caused by the seam and seam allowance can make the block slightly smaller.
If you find that your blocks are consistently a thread or two shy, you may want to adjust your quarter inch seam to a scant quarter-inch seam — a seam allowance that is just a thread or two shy of being a full quarter inch. You’ll find that this will resolve any issues created by the seam and seam allowance.
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