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Piecing 101 - Beginner's Quilting Tutorial Series


This post is part of the Beginner's Quilting Tutorial Series. We are going through an in depth series which will teach you everything you need to know to establish a solid quilting foundation. Click here to see all of the posts and learn more about the series. One of the most important lessons to learn during this beginner series, is that each step in the process of making a quilt is equally important. If you don't take you time when rotary cutting, you will have troubles piecing. And the same goes for when you piece. If you are not precise when piecing, you will end up with a wonky quilt with uneven seams. So I encourage you to take your time and try to enjoy each step of the process. When you begin piecing you may encounter some challenges such as crooked rows, un-even seams, points not matching, blocks ending up to small or too big. We have all been there at some point! So don't fret, it takes some practice.

Tips and Instructions to Accurate Piecing

Press and Starch your Fabric

You should have already starched and pressed your fabric before you cut your pieces. But, if you are using pre-cuts, I suggest gently pressing and starching your squares before you begin piecing. This will help your fabric behave when sewing.

Use a Correct Seam Allowance

A very important key to accurate piecing is a correct seam allowance. When quilting it is best to use a scant 1/4" seam allowance. To test your seam allowances take a piece of scrap fabric. And sew using your sewing machines 1/4" guideline or a 1/4" presser foot. With a sewing gauge measure the seam allowance. A scant 1/4" is a seam allowance that falls just about one stitch width shy of a full 1/4". In the image below you will see the stitching line falls about one stitch width outside 1/4", with a scant 1/4" you want the stitching line to fall directly underneath the edge of your 1/4" ruler. Sewing with a scant 1/4" seam will account for not only the seam itself, but the fold of the fabric when you press your seams, leaving you with a perfect seam.   The markings and guides on your sewing machine may not be 100% correct. Often times people will use the edge of the presser foot as a guide, but this too can be inaccurate. So it is important to test these methods out before you begin piecing your quilt. I use a scant 1/4" foot and have tested it to be sure it is accurate. In the image above you will see my seam is a tad bit over 1/4" this is what happens when I use my regular presser foot edge. Make adjustments to accommodate if need be. Once you know your machines "sweet spot" you can mark it with masking tape unless of course it is already correct. Another great way to test you seam allowances is to practice on patchwork. Take two squares and sew together. Press your seams open, and measure the width of the two seams pressed open. It should measure a perfect 1/2".

Check Stitch Quality

It is always wise to test your stitch quality before starting on your projects. When you re-thread your machine, add new bobbin, change the needle or make any changes you will want test. Your stitches should be even on both sides. I keep my stitch length at about 2.5 - 3 which leaves you with about 8 stitches per inch. If your stitches are not even on the top and bottom then here is a few things to try
  • Change you needle - Even if your needle is brand new try changing it out. Even the slightest nick on your needle can cause issues.
  • Re-Thread your machine - Starting with the top thread, re-thread your machine. If that doesn't work try replacing your bobbin thread.
  • Use Quality Thread! - This is the step I skipped just until recently. I used "okay" thread to save money and constantly had sewing machine trouble. I have since switched to Aurifil and have a lot less machine issues. You can read about that here.

Carefully Pin

Believe me when I tell you pinning isn't just for beginners! When I first begin quilting I used pins, and then after my third quilt I stopped, thinking I didn't need them anymore. Wrong! Pins are not training wheels they are the actual wheels! I pin just about everything now. I find pinning can be crucial when achieving accurate points and matching seams. I always pin using two pins directly in my seams. As you approach a pin remove it and then continue. Do not sew over a pin.

Press your Seams

There are two ways you can press your seams. You can press to one side or press your seams open. Now this really is a topic of debate. Pressing your seams to the side can be much quicker and some believe it is less stress on your seams. Pressing them open can be much more time consuming, but some believe that it helps things line up better and makes it easier for you machine to quilt and sew over. When I first began I pressed them to one side, then I was working on some bee blocks and the instructions specifically asked for the seams to be open. In the end after trying both methods, I was able to get more accuracy when I press to one side. But, then again that is only with some types of quilt blocks. So I will sometimes press to one side and sometime press open. I encourage you to try both methods on multiple projects until you find your preferred method. When I am piecing basic patchwork I like to press to one side and you will see this in the instructions below.

Piecing the Easy Pezzy Quilt Top

So with those tips in mind lets begin piecing our quilt tops. Remember the exact fabric you are using for this quilt does not matter you could use any 5" squares you want. These instructions will still apply.

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First you will begin by laying your charms out in the order you want your finished quilt top. Take your time and make sure you like the placement. I often have to step back and look from afar or even take a picture with my phone and study it.

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Once you have your final layout we will label the rows. Take a piece of paper and cut it into 11 squares and label them Row #1, Row #2, etc. Starting from the top left side of your quilt pick up each 5" square in the row creating a pile. Put your Row #1 label on top.

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Label each row and set aside in piles.

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From Row #1 take your first 2 squares and line them up right sides together. Now stitch 1/4" from the right edge.

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Grab your 3rd square and line up with your 2nd square and sew a 1/4" seam. Continue until your entire row is pieced.

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Set your row aside with the label. And continue until all rows are pieced.

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Take Row #1 and Row #2 and lay them right side down. Trim your thread tails. Then we will begin pressing our seams.

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Press your seams to one direction for each row, alternating directions per row. For example Row #1 press seams to right, Row #2 press seams to left and so on. This will help assure your squares line up when sewing. It is almost like piecing a puzzle.

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Now we will pin our two rows together. Line up the seams and pin directly in your seam parallel with it. (Ignore where my pin is in the photo :) I didn't get a proper photo of this)

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Sew rows together with a 1/4" seam removing your pins as you go. Continue this until all your rows are sewn together.

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Press your entire quilt top with starch, so that everything is now laying crisp and flat.

Appliqué Section

If you are following along and making the Easy Pezzy Crib Quilt, there is a section of appliqué. This is completely optional. I decided to add appliqué to this quilt because I feel appliqué is a great skill to have and not too difficult for a beginner. So next week I will be going over some of the different types of appliqué and how to do basic machine appliqué.
Alyssa

    Post Comments

  • Norma says...

    Hi — I’m just starting out and I don’t “do” math very well. So — I’m a beginning sewer with a math handicap. Now, that’s a challenge. (hehe) I was given squares that are 6.5". There are 72 of them to be exact. How do I know what the best quilt size would be for the square? A 9×8 or a 12×6? It will be for a lap quilt as this is practice for me and they are already cut. Any help you can give would be appreciated.

    On August 20, 2014

  • Soh says...

    I’m a beginner and I’ve cut 6-inch squares that don’t match up. Can you tell me how I can fix this problem? The pattern I am using is such that I don’t match the seams. It is a three dudes jelly rolly pattern.

    On August 20, 2014

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Alyssa Lichner from Pile O' Fabric

Welcome to the Pile O’ Fabric blog, my name is Alyssa Lichner, I live in sunny Gilbert, AZ. I am a freelance web and graphic designer turned avid sewist. I write modern quilting tutorials and share techniques and inspiration here at Pile O’ Fabric… Read More

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