Crazy Accuracy Freak Girl has broken out of her cage and is on the loose. I do try to keep her locked up, but she’s a wily one. If 1/16″ or 1/32″ of space that shouldn’t be there between two patchwork pieces that are supposed to match doesn’t bother you, that’s okay–then this post was not meant for you! You quilt your way, and I’ll quilt mine. 😉 However, if you are like Crazy Accuracy Freak Girl and you want to know the really nitty gritty details about how to make patchwork pieces fit together better, and maybe even perfectly on the first try (or you just want to have a good laugh at a quilter gone mad with the need to control literally everything) read on.
I’m working on a quilt with 45 degree angles and though I’m pressing carefully so that the seams will butt together properly and be easy to match, I’m pinning anyway just to make it as perfect as I can, ’cause that’s how I roll. I will note here that my version of “pinning” is to use as few pins as possible to get the job done accurately and efficiently. I’m not all that into speed piecing because I enjoy the process even if it’s a long one, but accuracy and efficiency are important. Even using pins, I was getting results like this:
Sure, that’s not a huge deal and the quilting will probably cover that up because the space is only a little bigger than the width of a couple of lines of sewing thread. I didn’t take it out and re-do it (though I would have if this was a quilt for show), but I did figure out how to prevent it from happening. Because really, why even have that, when you can have this?
Back to Basic Patchwork Piecing Lessons
So here’s the deal: when you’re trying to match a seam intersection like that, you want to press the seam allowances in opposite directions so that the seams will “butt” against each other, making matching easier. Y’all probably already know that, but just in case you don’t here ya’ go:
(I made that demo years ago as an executable with some program that I no longer have and can’t remember the name of, which is why it’s so tiny–though you can make it bigger! Since Windows squawks at everyone now when you want to use an executable file for anything–and rightly so I suppose, thank you hackers–I’ve moved it over to slideshare. Share it if you find it useful!)
Dissecting the Problem
Anyway, I’ve pressed this current project with that technique in mind, even though I’m working with angled patchwork pieces. When it came time to sew two really long patchwork strips together where lots of seams had to match, I was pinning like this:
and all was well. However, on some of the sections, I had to pin like this:
See the difference? In the first shot, the top seam allowance is pointed back toward the presser foot. The presser foot is going to come up against that top seam allowance and because of the added thickness of the seam allowances, it will naturally push that top seam even closer to the seam on the bottom as you sew over it. This method is going to give you a really good match, and you definitely want to pin below that seam to take advantage of that natural and unavoidable movement of fabric as you sew. In a perfect world (I wish!) you’d always want to sew in a direction that would naturally allow this to happen, though as we know–and as you can see even in the Four Patch Demo above–it doesn’t always work out that way.
In the second shot I pinned below the seam again, but the natural movement of the fabric during sewing was working against me. Why? Because the seam allowances are flipped the other way so that the top seam allowance is not pointed toward the presser foot and isn’t being pushed into anything like it was in the other photo. The fabric is just being allowed to keep on moving and shifting slightly until it hits that pin and by that time, it’s much too late and there could be a gap between the patchwork pieces as shown in the very top photo.
Improved Pinning Techniques for Perfect Patchwork Points
What’s the answer? When I had to sew in such a way that the top seam allowances weren’t pointing at the presser foot, I started pinning above that seam line that needed to match like this:
and now, I have my perfectly matched corners and points back, thank you very much. Pinning above the seam line means that any movement that may be happening before the presser foot gets to the seam line is going to stop when it hits the pin, and won’t be allowed to affect that seam line meeting point. And let’s face it, fabric movement is just a fact of life. We can either control it, or let it control us.
This pinning technique is also applicable to straight strip piecing, four patch piecing, or any patchwork piecing where you have two seam lines that need to match perfectly. Position the fabric(s) so that the inevitable fabric shifting can work in your favor if at all possible, but when it’s not possible, understanding why gaps happen can help you prevent them and pin smarter when necessary.
Is all of this ridiculously nitpicky? Yes! I can absolutely poke fun at myself for
obsessing over noticing things like this and analyzing why and how it works the way it does, but there it is. I want to control my fabric and patchwork pieces, not have them control me. ;-P