Start Quilting--Tips, Tricks & Tools
Posted by deonnstott on Tuesday, May 10th, 2011
Tips, Tricks & Tools
(Precision Piecing Pointers)
The following are some of my best tips and tricks that make quilting so satisfying and enjoyable! Whether you are just getting started on your quilting journey, or are an experienced quilter, this tutorial may help improve your sewing techniques, save time and energy, and help you to perfect the elements of beautiful quiltmaking.
Accuracy begins with the basics: Good tools, taking time to cut accurately, and using the best materials you can find and afford (sewing machine in good working order, iron and board, fabric, thread, batting, mat, rotary cutter, ruler, etc.). Here's a peek at my favorite tools and toys in my sewing kit:
Rotary Cutting Tools: Rotary cutter with extra blades, and clear acrylic rulers for making perfectly straight cuts. I get the most use from my 6" x 18" or 24" rulers. And I love my little Omnigrid Foldaway cutting mat with pressing surface for quilting on the go. A good beginning size mat is 18 " x 24" with a 1" grid, hash marks at 1/8" increments and 45- and 60-degree angles.
Quilter's Bible: my booklet of charts (setting triangles, backing yardage, etc), basics, and quilter's math formulas right at my fingertips.
Needles/Thread/Pins: Size 75 to 80 sewing machine needle for most piecing; my favorite thread for piecing, applique', binding and machine quilting ("So Fine" by Superior); a glue stick, an embroidery needle, and a leather ThimblePad adhesive dot to use for a thimble. My favorite pins are Clover's fine, sharp little glass-head pins that slide in and out of fabrics easily. And finally, you can never have enough chicken pin cushions!
~~ MEASURE TWICE, CUT ONCE!! ~~
CUTTING ~ Using the same brand of ruler regardless of size when measuring and cutting will keep your pieces consistent. Square up and align pieces before sewing together. Pin/glue stick/stiletto to help pieces fit together as you stitch. If necessary to ease, place larger piece on bottom so feed dogs can help. Make it a habit to re-trim each pieced unit to the correct required measurement. And may your blade always be sharp!!
THREAD ~ Use a neutral thread color - helps the thread blend in, especially when you have multi-value fabric. Use thread meant for piecing—bulky thread makes bulky seams.
SEAMS ~ Using an accurate 1/4" seam allowance throughout a quilt's construction will make your blocks straight and lie flat. A little time to test and measure your seam allowance can save hours of frustration later! Stitch length should be 10 to 12 stitches per inch (2.0 to 2.5 mm). It is not necessary to backstitch when piecing quilt blocks as each seam will be enclosed in another seam, border or binding. Check your seam allowance:
1) Cut three 1-1/2" x 4" strips of fabric; one light, two dark.
2) Stitch strips together; light strip in the center, using 1/4" seam allowance.
Press to set seams, then press toward the darker fabric.
3) Measure center strip. It should measure exactly one inch.
If the center strip is larger, your seam allowance is too small. If it is smaller than one inch, your seam allowance is too large. You may be able to correct this by using a 1/4" presser foot, or moving your needle position to the right or left. If not, continue with these steps:
4) Slide a ruler under the presser foot, and lower the needle until just on the 1/4" line. Use the lines of your foot plate to straighten the ruler horizontally and vertically.
5) Adhere some removable blue painter's masking tape on the throat plate of your machine along the side of the ruler, 1/4" away from needle. Remove the ruler and use the edge of the tape as your 1/4" guide. Build up a few layers to form a nice ridge. Test your seam allowance again. Repeat if necessary. :)
PRESSING ~ Your iron is as important a tool as your sewing machine. Pressing seams ensures accurate piecing. As a general rule, you will get better results if you press on the front (printed) side of the fabric. Set the seam by pressing the sewn unit flat, sinking the stitches into the fabric (see Step 2 above). Then press the seam to one side, usually toward the darker fabric. Doing this will help align the seams perfectly and reduce bulk. Use a hot, dry iron and press in an up and down motion. Use a light mist if needed, but be wary of steam--after all, cotton shrinks.
PINNING ~ When you want seam lines to line up perfectly, first match up seams so they alternate and nestle at the intersection. Pin diagonally through the pieces, catching both seam allowances. Remove the pin when you get to it to avoid stitching over the pin. For tricky or bulky seams, try using a washable glue stick instead of pins.
To make blocks lie flat at the intersection of four seams, try Darlene Zimmerman’s “Magic Twist.”
1) Make sure your seams alternate at the intersection.
2) Hold the block in both hands about 1/2" from the center seam;
gently twist in opposite directions, releasing a few stitches in the seam allowance.
3) Press the intersection with the nose of your iron.
Note how the seam allowances fan out, traveling in a circular pattern.
4) Turn unit over and press on printed side of fabric for a crisp seam. Magical!
QUILT COMFORTABLY ~ Be sure to have plenty of light on your work space. For ideal ergonomics, the bed of your machine should be low enough that you can sit up straight and relax your shoulders, about 9" above the seat of your chair. The cutting table should be about 6" below your elbow. Your pressing surface should be about 3" lower than your elbow. Your back and shoulders should not have to suffer for your creative passion! :)
RELAX ~ Sew slowly and keep control. Sometimes multi-tasking such as chain piecing or cutting multiple layers of fabric can diminish the ability to be precise. Remember to blink, breathe, swallow. Take a break every 45 minutes.
ENJOY! ~ The process should not be a race to the finish but an enjoyable experience. Be willing to try new things, take your time, test your creativity, and enjoy yourself! Remember, you are telling your story and making a treasure in cloth--It deserves your best work!
I hope you have found a tip or two that will help make your quilting experience successful and enjoyable! If you have questions, please leave a comment, email a note or stop by my blog, Quiltscapes for a visit, I'd love to hear from you!