If sewing by machine, there a number of techniques you can use to sew patches together quickly and precisely
One speed technique is called chain sewing and is ideal when you are building up smaller units of a block, such as squares or triangles. The patches for machine piecing are cut accurately, using a rotary cutter, with the 1/4in seam allowance included. The seamline is measured 1/4in from the cut edge, although it is not marked.
Checking your 1/4in seam
Tiny variations repeated over many seams can have a major impact on the final block or quilt. Another problem is that it can also be curved like a banana as it is harder to piece accurately at the start and end of each row. (One solution is to start to sew off a small scrap of fabric. This gives the teeth something to start on and also stops the corners getting chewed in the feed dogs.) Do not worry if your sample is not straight or the right size. Cut some more strips and have another go.
There is no need to tack before machine stitching, and in the initial stages, no need to pin either. Feed pairs of patches through, one after another, not cutting the threads in between them. This saves time and thread and because you carry a line of chain-sewn little "flags" to the iron, there is less chance of losing some on the way.
TIP! Work efficiently - sew all the left sides with chain sewing, then turn the whole set around and sew all the other sides.
Seams are pressed to one side, not open. Press towards the darker fabric, towards the edge of the block, or away from where the quilting stitches will be. Pressing means picking the iron up and down, not sweeping it across the fabric. First press the seam that you have sewn with both fabrics exactly as you have sewed them. This sets the stitches into the fabrics. Then hold the darker fabric on the top and fold back as you press the iron down, this presses the seam allowance toward the dark fabric. Press seam allowances of adjacent rows in opposite directions to reduce bulk where they cross. Give a final press on the rightside to avoid any little pleats which can spoil the accuracy of patches.
Matching seams and accuracy
To match seams when joining rows, pin carefully with pins at right angles to the seam to be sewn, and along the lines of the seams to be matched.
Don't worry too much if your patches don't match and you lose triangle points. We all improve with practise. Constant unpicking of seams and re-sewing is demoralising, plus it weakens the fabrics.
Quick pieced four and nine patches
With rotary cutting and accurate machine sewing four and nine patch blocks are a breeze. Fat quarters of fabric are idea, so that you can cut long strips with the rotary cutter. Include the seam allowance when cutting strips.
Finished size of square + 1/4in + 1/4in = width of strip to be cut
eg a 2in square: 2 + 1/4in + 1/4in = 2 1/2in strip to be cut
This will give a 4in finished four patch or 6in finished nine patch.
Half and quarter square triangles
These units are part of many patchwork blocks. They are quick and accurate when sewn by machine, Because of the method of sewing, cutting and re-sewing, you will need to allow an extra seam allowance of 7/8in, to the finished measurement you require.
TIP! Clear perspex sewing table extensions spread the weight of larger pieces of fabric and quilts when sewing. If you place a mirror under the table, in front of the sewing machine, it gives a splendid view of what is happening underneath. A quick glance down just as that awkward seam comes up in front of the presser foot, ensures that all the pieces are lying just as needed for a perfectly intersecting seam. You can also check that the lower fabric is in fact in line with the upper when sewing 1/4in seams with poorly contrasted fabric.
First published in Patchwork Basics 2002
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