Category Archives: Tutorials

Top and bottom halves stitched and pressed

It’s not how you stitch it

. . . It’s how you press it!!

“Always press seam allowances to one side,” is what I read years ago, when I first started quilting.

The source said pressing seams to one side minimized “bearding.” Bearding happens when batting fibers migrate to the front of the quilt along seam lines, making it look like the quilt has sprouted whiskers.

Beards look better on men than on quilts . . .

Pressing seams to one side also aids in construction, and reduces bulk, but not by accident. You sometimes have to think about it, too.

ALL of my patchwork quilts use the same set of templates. I’ve had plenty of time to determine the best way to press the patches. Consider this patch:

Patch pieces
Patch pieces

Do you notice the two places that two seam lines come together at a point? How I press those seams makes all the difference in the world.

I generally stitch from the center out, and from the largest pieces to the smallest.

The following photos show the back of the patch (or patch back, for short) after I have stitched and pressed. I always press the seam allowances away from the point where two seam lines meet.

First two pieces stitched and pressed
First two pieces stitched and pressed
Third fabric piece, stitched and pressed
Third fabric piece, stitched and pressed

Then, I do the same for the other seams that come together at a point:

Fourth fabric piece, stitched and pressed
Fourth fabric piece, stitched and pressed
Fifth fabric piece, stitched and pressed
Fifth fabric piece, stitched and pressed

To either side of these two places, there are three layers of fabric: the two seam allowances, and the quilt top. Had I pressed both seam allowances in the same direction, there would have been five layers of fabric; had I pressed both seam allowances toward the point, there would have been seven layers of fabric.

This is a given.  I MUST press these seams this way to reduce bulk. Granted, these seams may encounter the same on adjacent patches, but there’s no help for that.

Now, it’s time to stitch the last piece of fabric. But which direction should I press it?

Sixth fabric piece stitched, but not pressed
Sixth fabric piece stitched, but not pressed

In this case, you need to see how the neighboring seams are pressed before you make that determination. I laid the four patches in their final arrangement.

Turn the patches over to see what’s going on underneath:

Four patch backs
Four patch backs

Once you see which direction the seam allowances are already pressed, you can figure out which direction to press this last seam.  The idea is to press the seam allowances in the opposite direction. (We’re trying to minimize bulk here, remember??)

Upper left quadrant
Upper left quadrant
Upper right quadrant
Upper right quadrant
Lower left quadrant
Lower left quadrant
Lower right quadrant
Lower right quadrant

Once the seam allowances are pressed in the proper direction, I stitch the two pairs of patches together and press the seam allowances in opposite directions.

Top pair and bottom pair, stitched and pressed
Top pair and bottom pair, stitched and pressed

Stitch and press the top and bottom halves together and press the seam allowances. I pressed the horizontal seam allowance toward the bottom pair in this block. I’ll press the seam toward the top pair in the adjacent block.

Top and bottom halves stitched and pressed
Top and bottom halves stitched and pressed

TAA-DAA!! (he says with a flourish . . .)

Finished 4-patch block
Finished 4-patch block

Tell me: how do YOU press your seams??

Lose the Straight-of-Grain!

I’m not straight, and neither is my fabric!

A recent project reminded me why I hated patchwork piecing: my blocks never seemed to turn out right. I always ended up trimming the block to square it, making the block smaller than I wanted.

An often-repeated Rule of Quilting states: Cut Your Patches on the Straight-of-Grain (though Strait-of-Grain was how I viewed it).

That’s great if you have few bias seams.

Consider this quilt block:

Shoo Fly
Shoo Fly

Except for the diagonals in the four corners, all other seams are on the straight-of-grain, or s-o-g for short.

Now consider THIS quilt block:

FKOQR
FKOQR

All internal seams are on the bias (to a greater or lesser extent).

For my last project, I cut all the pieces for this block on the s-o-g. Sewing was a nightmare! For each seam, I carefully sewed two bias edges together. I took pains not to stretch the seam. I carefully pressed the seams to one side.

Then, I trimmed the block to square it,giving me a smaller block. And if that wasn’t enough, the outer edges of the block raveled!

I took a good long look at the way I sewed the block together. I noted the order the patches were sewn as well as which patch was on top of the other.

For my next project, I cut one long edge of each patch on the s-o-g; this patch will be on top when I sew it to another. I pin and stitch the two patches together with the bias edge against the feed dogs of the sewing machine and the s-o-g edge on top.

Consider this quilt block:

Bias-cut block
Bias-cut block

It’s nearly perfect: it is the correct size; I don’t have to trim; and the edges don’t ravel.

I invite you to try this method yourself.

Please leave a comment (link above) if you found this helpful.

Do-Si-Do (sample)

Do-Si-Do (drawing)
Do-Si-Do (drawing)

This is a drawing of a quilt pattern I’m currently writing.

I call the pattern “Do-Si-Do” because the windmills seem to dance around squares (hence the square dancing reference). But do you think they’re dancing “against a backdrop of stars,” or “under the stars”?

If the design seems familiar, it’s because I’ve used it before. You can see the other versions in my Quilt Gallery, under “Windmill Quilts.”

It’s actually a very simple pattern: a single patch is colored two different ways.

Patches in two different colorways
Patches in two different colorways

Groups of four form 4-patch blocks.

4-Patch block, colorway one
4-Patch block, colorway one
4-Patch block, colorway two
4-Patch block, colorway two

Then, the blocks are alternated.

Do-Si-Do (sample)
Do-Si-Do (sample)

Do you like this design??  Please leave a comment (link at the top of this post).

Taking the templates for a “test drive”

Now it’s time to try out the new templates.

Cut fabric into strips wide enough to accommodate the template, with a little to spare.

Template on fabric strip
Template on fabric strip

Lay an acrylic ruler on top of the template, aligning on seam allowance.

Cut along the acrylic ruler
Cut along the acrylic ruler

(You may notice in the photo above the ruler extends 3/8″ beyond the seam allowance. Quite frankly, I have “man hands,” and I appreciate a slightly wider seam allowance.)

Because of the sandpaper on the back of the template, you can slide the ruler around without the template sliding around too. Trim along all sides of the template (and don’t forget to press the rotary cutter blade into the fabric within the seam allowance to notch before removing the template).

Trimmed fabric
Trimmed fabric

Turn the template upside down, and position along the strip of fabric.

Moving along the strip
Moving along the strip

Rinse and repeat . . .

All cut up (and nowhere to sew)
All cut up (and nowhere to sew)

Seven steps to perfect templates

When starting a new project that requires paper templates, here’s what to do:

1. Print the templates

Print (or photocopy) the sheet of templates. (Use card stock, which is slightly heavier than regular copy paper.)

2. Glue the templates to the back (smooth) side of a sheet of sandpaper

The sandpaper gives the templates some “bite” when laid on fabric, so there’s less slipping around. I use a medium grit sandpaper; if the grit’s too fine, the sandpaper slides.

3. Cut the templates apart

Lay your acrylic ruler along the seam line and trim the templates with a rotary cutter.

Trimmed templates
Trimmed templates

4. Push a straight pin through the templates at all corners

5. Pin corresponding templates together

With right sides together, straight pin the templates together, through the previously-made holes.

Pinned templates, exposing excess points
Pinned templates, exposing excess points

6. Trim off excess points

If the templates fit together by shape alone, so should the resulting cut fabric.

7. Notch the templates

While the templates are still pinned together, press the blade of the rotary cutter through both layers within the seam allowance (it’s OK if the cut extends further).

When you lay the templates on fabric, the sandpaper keeps them from moving around. After cutting the shapes, but before removing the templates, press the blade of the rotary cutter in the notches, within the seam allowance.

Matching the shapes and the notches of the fabric pieces assures perfect blocks. Perfect templates, perfect blocks.

Have you tried this method? Did you like it? What were your results? Please join the conversation by leaving your comments (Comment link at top of this post).