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Let’ s get stitchin’!! Before I start any new sewing project that requires some pretty precise piecing as this ColourMaze Block I like to ‘set my machine up for sewing success’. Over the years, I believe that all of these steps help me to stitch a much more accurate scant 1/4″ seam and improve my piecing accuracy!
Here’s what I do every time I start a new patchwork project:
- Clean and Oil That Machine – I’m always amazed at how much ‘fabric dust’ one accumulates under the stitch plate within a few days of stitching….those fibers and all that dust can really inhibit the machine from ‘taking its best stitch’ which in turn cause inaccuracies in your 1/4″ seam allowance. Every few days actually, I just make a habit to lift up that stitch plate , remove all the dust bunnies and give it my machine a good drink of oil to boot. You might find depending upon your climate that your machine requires more oil than the manufacturer recommends. For me, the desert air here actually dries out my machine alot and I find that I really need to oil it at least once a week and sometimes in Summer twice a week;
- Start with a New Needle! – an absolute must! When Carl and I owned our quilt shop, Linderella’s Quilt Works, in Southern Pines, NC, we were always always amused by customers who would brag and boast that they had never, ever, ever changed the needle on their sewing machine….uh, say what? That needle takes alot of abuse with just regular stitching and if you’ve every run smack-dab over a pin – whoa! Check out the picture below – The picture to the left is a new needle and the picture on the right? That’s what the tip of your needle now looks like after you hit a pin – time to change the needle!
Additionally, the needle manufacturer actually recommends that you change it every 8-10 hours of sewing…that might be too much or too little depending on the project…I usually change my needle whenever I start a new project …. For piecing, my go-to needle is the Schmetz 75/11 Quilting Needle. This needle has a super sharp tapered point that penetrates the fabric without leaving a large hole and also eliminates skipped stitches;
- Change the Stitch Plate to a Single Hole Stitch Plate – This little guy is a game changer! If you don’t already own one, run (don’t walk) to your sewing machine dealer. By changing over to a single hole stitch plate, the needle and thread (as it loops around the bobbin thread to make each stitch), are forced to stay perfectly straight up and down in the single hole thus creating a more perfect straight stitch. The single hole stitch plate also prevents fabric from getting caught or chewed up under the stitch plate as you start stitching. Just remember to switch the stitch plate back to the rectangular opening stitch plate if you choose a zig zag stitch or other decorative stitch – if not, you’ll hear a violent crunch and then definitely need to change that needle!
- Change Thread to a 50 Weight Cotton Thread – One of major reasons 1/4″ seams are inaccurate is thread takes up a lot of space in the seam allowance, and if one is using a thicker shaft thread such as a 40 weight or 30 weight, some of that precious seam allowance has just been robbed by the thicker thread (compounded by perhaps slight inaccuracies in cutting and pressing) – all of these factors cause the block not to finish at the exact measurement the pattern says it will – a great example of this is when your points are cut off while making a star block. So I always switch out to a 50 weight cotton thread for the top and for the bobbin. My go to preference is Aurifil 50 weight Silvery Gray – #2615 – this color is fabulous and no matter what my fabric color is (dark or light) this thread color camouflages itself in the seams. There are many other great brands such as Gutterman, Superior etc…. just choose a neutral color like tan or gray and make sure it is 50 weight cotton;
- Change the Presser Foot to a 1/4″ Patchwork Presser Foot – Another must have and available from your sewing machine dealer. This foot helps you achieve and stay true to the 1/4″ seam allowance that all quilting seams require. I prefer the 1/4″ foot without the guide – personally for me, I find that when I use the 1/4″ presser foot with the guide, I become lazy about my 1/4″ seam and begin to push my fabric up against that guide thinking everything is just peachy. The results? My seam allowance is larger than a 1/4″ and my piecing is inaccurate.
Get Your 1/4″ Seam Mojo Going! Now that my machine is ready to go – I always like to test my scant 1/4″ seam. Let’s face it, a 1/4″ seam is not a whole lot of room (as evidenced by the photo to the right – this is the Wrong side of one of those 1″ strips after it is sewn in to the block – the seams almost touch! Not alot of room to spare!) And alot of things take up space or rob you of that precious seam allowance like thread, pressing, inaccurate cutting, wobbly stitches, thread build up from from seam ripping etc. So a scant 1/4″ seam is what’s really required, and a scant 1/4″ seam is just a hair less than a full 1/4″ seam allowance.
Quilter beware!! – Alot of the 1/4″ presser feet for machines are a full 1/4″ – I have found this with my Bernina for sure and I need to slightly “back off” from the right edge of the foot to achieve a scant 1/4″. One of the best ways to figure this out is to simply stitch a test strip.
Test Your Scant 1/4″ Seam: Cut (2) 2″ wide strips of fabric – any length will work. Stitch your best scant 1/4″ seam. Press the seam to one side and the strips should measure 3-1/2″ wide at the top, middle and bottom. If not, try again and adjust where you place the fabric edge up against the edge of the presser foot – like I said, you may need to back off from the edge or move your fabric ever so slightly to the left (toward the needle).
Still Can’t Get That Scant 1/4″ Seam?? If you’re having trouble achieving a scant 1/4″ seam, there’s a fabulous tool to help you – available at most quilt shops. Its called the Perkins Perfect Piecing Seam Guide. It’s a small little ruler with a hole in the middle and a scant 1/4″ seam drawn on the side of the ruler. Place it under your stitch plate, drop the needle in the hole and voila!: the right edge of the ruler denotes the scant 1/4″ seam on your machine – you may even notice as I did that the scant 1/4″ seam is just to the left of the right edge of the 1/4″ presser foot. I like to run a piece of tape from the stitch plate down the slide on table and then line my fabric up against the tape edge to keep my fabric straight while stitching!
This is a TEST!
Now you’re ready to start stitchin’ up the gorgeous ColourMaze block! I like to always stitch up a test block. Test blocks are great ways to work out all the kinks. I find whenever I skip this step – I always wish somewhere along the way that I had chosen to make a test block to avoid headaches in the future.
All of the directions to make the ColourMaze block are on pages 2 & 3 of the pattern. There you’ll find step-by-step detailed directions, full color diagrams and pressing directions to assist you. Here are some notes that I hope you find helpful while making your ColourMaze test block and future blocks:
1. Measure and Trim After Each SubUnit is Created: I’m what you might call a cautious quilter – I like to check the accuracy of my seam allowance and stitching at almost every step in the block construction. The ColourMaze Block is created by piecing together 3 sub units (top, middle and bottom) and these 3 sub units come together to create the block. I like to measure and trim after each subunit is completed. The pattern itself tells you what each subunit should measure after stitching is complete. For me, its a good way to check and make sure that my stitching and pressing is consistent and the block itself is being assembled accurately. That way I can correct and mistakes while the block is being constructed and I am assured the my block will be fairly close to the finished size according to the pattern.
2. Those Thin 1″ Strips & Tips– Again those thin little strips can be quite squirrely. At first, you might find it difficult to stitch an accurate scant 1/4″ seam down the edge as the little strip wants to slip and slide along the edge of the larger fabric strip. If so, here are a few tips:
a. Get a Grip! Pinning may help but pins also take up space and throw off the seam allowance. I find that by pressing down on the strip with a pretty firm grip of your finger or even a stiletto is good at preventing the strip from slipping and thus causing your seam allowance to waiver. I do this when starting to stitch down the 1″ strips and especially near the end of the strip to avoid my seam allowance from waivering as the end of the strip approaches the needle.
b. Draw In Your Scant 1/4″ Seam! If you’re having a lot of difficulty keeping true to that 1/4″ seam, why not just draw your 1/4″ seam down the edge of the 1″ strip? Remember it should be a scant 1/4″ or a hair less than a full 1/4″. Carl does this often and his piecing is really accurate. With a Frixion Iron Off pen or a washable marker, just lightly draw the 1/4″ seam down each edge of the 1″ strip and then sew directly on the line. Works like magic!
c. Be Just a Tad More Scant! When stitching down the edge of the 1″ strips, I find that if I am just a ‘tad’ more scant (like just a hair less again) with my already scant 1/4″ seam, that the seam allowance works out perfectly and that my strip is stitched on straighter.
d. Set the Seam! Alot of us learned this tip in our Beginning Sewing classes and then promptly forget this useful tip – I know I did ! But it does really help (and regardless of what you’re sewing)! ‘Setting the seam’ simply means that after you stitch the seam, you press the seam in its closed position (just how you stitched it) – this will squish all the threads down into the seam allowance, and smooth and flatten the seam. Next you press as you would normally- i.e.: open the seam or finger press the seam to one side or as the pattern directions say. Then press the seam with the iron. By adding this one little step of setting the seam in its closed position I can definitely see that my seams and stitching in general are more accurate and also that the block finishes flatter and nicer all around!
e. Use a Little Steam and Mary Ellen’s Best Press – Yup, in addition to ‘setting the seam’, I also find with a little steam and a squirt of Mary Ellen’s Best Press that these 1″ strips lay over nicely and behave!
f. Trim after Stitching the 1″ Strip to the Larger Strip: Again, cautious quilter alert! After I stitch the 1″ strips onto the larger strips, I like to check and of course, trim them to what their exact measurement should be before proceeding to the next step. This little trim takes care of all my inaccurate, wobbly stitching when sewing the 1″ strip on in the first place. So once these little strips are stitched on and pressed, I know that they should measure 3/4″ wide. So I place the 3/4″ line of my ruler along the seam and trim off excess fabric off the top and side – alot of time I’m trimming off just slivers of fabric but I find this results in a more accurate final block.
Make More ColourMaze Blocks: Once my test block is complete and I’ve worked out all the kinks, I’m ready to construct more ColourMaze blocks. I like to chain piece all the units first and ready them into the three subunits that make the block – top, middle and bottom – this makes the final block construction go oh so much faster!
So go forth and create ColourMaze blocks. Mine are shown below. I making two ColourMaze quilts at the same time. The first with Violet Craft Modern Classics and the second with the new Kaffe Fassett Rainbow Stash.
That’s it for Week #3! Happy quilting everyone! And by all means if you need any help or assistance, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next week – Week #4 – is our final week in the ColourMaze Quilt Along and we’ll discuss layout options and the steps to piece together the rows to complete the ColourMaze Quilt top! be sure to check out the companion tutorial video to Week #3 on our Colourwerx You Tube channel and subscribe! WooHoo!
See ya next week everyone and thank you! Until your next colour fix~ L&C xxoo