Welcome back to Week #3 of the Colourwerx Paint Box Quilt Along! This week is all about stitching your strip sets together ! I love this step in the process as I find it quite relaxing to spend a few afternoons at the machine simple strip piecing the day away – no stress and eazy peazy!
Just a brief recap of where we are in the process and what the next few weeks have in store for us:
By now you’ve selected your materials and you’ve probably sorted the (40) strips into first: groups of 5 with 8 strips each group and then again into: groups of 10 with 4 strips in each group.
If you need further clarification regarding this step, refer to page 1 of the Paint Box pattern or Week #2 ‘s Blog where I discuss in depth the various ways to sort your strips into colour groups! Also you should have gathered your two 1-yard cuts for the sashing triangles and cut strips from each of those fabrics according to the cutting directions on page 1 of the Paint Box pattern.
Week #3 – this week is all about piecing the strips.
Week #4 – we will cut the triangle shapes from the strips sets.
Week #5 – we will discuss arranging the blocks for the quilt top and sewing rows together.
Week #6 – finally concluding with steps and pictures of some some basic straight line machine quilting ideas to complete your quilt top.
Great! You are now ready for some relaxing strip piecing! But first things first!
It’s important to set yourself and your sewing machine up for “Stitchin’ Success”! If you prefer to watch a fun little video of the “Setting Your Machine up for Stitchin’ Success” I have a companion video that explains the below steps….You can view it on our Colourwerx You Tube channel and also subscribe so you won’t miss future broadcasts!
First let’s review how I set up my machine for stitchin’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 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!
Now you’re ready to start stitchin’ your Paint Box strips!!
Step #1 – STITCH THE STRIP ROLL GROUPINGS TOGETHER —
Ok – first things first, – if you used strips from a precut strip roll or jelly roll, make sure you have cut the strips to a width of 2″ wide.
However like I explained in Week #2’s blog post – I confess that often times I cut the strips down to this width after I have stitched pairs of strips together. Here’s an example: I’ve stitched (2) 2-1/2″ wide strips together with a scant 1/4″ seam allowance. Before pressing the strips open, I place them (still Right Sides Together) on the cutting board, line up the 2″ mark of the ruler on the stitched side and then cut the width to 2″ wide. Easy Peazy! However if this makes you nervous, then by all means, trim each of your strips to 2″ wide before stitching pairs together.
So you’re ready for strip piecing.
Lay out your first color grouping in order next to your machine. Pick up the first pair of strips and away you go!! Make sure you are stitching and scant 1/4″ seam, (which is a hairless than a full 1/4″. Notice the picture below – the edge of the strip is just under the right edge of my presser foot and if you are using a strip with pinked edges – the pinked outer edge is considered to be the outer edge of the strip!!)
Once all 4 strips from the first color grouping are stitched together, press the seams in the same direction and then measure the width of the strip set. If all went well, then your strips width should match what the Paint Box pattern says on Page 2 – Step #1. You can also spritz your strip sets with a bit of starch or Mary Ellen’s Best Press at this point to give them a little body and a crisper, firmer press.
Continue stitchin’ strips together for each of the remaining nine color groupings! Be sure to measure the strip width each time to make sure you are maintaining your scant 1/4″ seam!
Here’s what my coloured strip sets looked like after I was complete – I chose to cut my strips down to the 2″ width as I pieced the pairings together so I ended up with some lovely colorful trimmings too!
Step #2 – STITCH THE SASHING TRIANGLE STRIPS TOGETHER —
Referring to Page 3-Step #1 in the pattern, lay out your sashing strips near your sewing machine. Start with the top strips in each pile and stitch together – again stitching a scant 1/4″ seam.
Once the 3 strips from the top of the piles are stitched together, press the seams in the same direction and then measure the width of the strip set. If all went well, then your strips width should match what the Paint Box pattern says on Page 3 – Step #2. As above, you can also spritz your strip sets with a bit of starch or Mary Ellen’s Best Press at this point to give them a little body and a crisper, firmer press.
Continue strips piecing groups of 3 until you have created the appropriate number of sashing triangle strips sets! Here’s what mine looked like when I was complete with a very relaxing weekend of strip piecing!
See – that wasn’t so bad! – eazy peazy and quite relaxing right?!?! 🙂
And that’s it! You are now ready for Week #4 – Cutting the Triangles & Layout.
Make sure you have your Creative Grids Quarter Square Triangle Ruler CGRT90 ready!! I really like the Creative Grids brand of rulers! We also have these available for purchase in our Colourwerx shop!
Until then, please be sure to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. Or feel free to post progress pictures on our Colourwerx QAL Facebook Group.
Until your next colour fix and next week’s QAL post ~ happy and bright quilting always! L&C xxoo