Thursday, March 6, 2014

Practically Perfect In Every Way

Is the quarter inch seam really important?

Mary Poppins was self-proclaimed as "practically perfect in every way."  Well, let's face it, we aren't quite that perfect.  With practice (and a few tricks up our sleeves), we can make a valiant attempt!  I think when someone pointed out to me that a slight miscalculation can be multiplied over a number of seams, it brought home the importance.  A seam that is off by one eighth of an inch over just one block with eight seams can be off one whole inch. 

One of the first things you'll need to master as a new quilter is the Perfect Personal Quarter Inch Seam.  Mastering that seam will be the very foundation of your quilting successes. In the Beginning Quilting classes it's the first thing.  And it must be found on your sewing machine, not mine.  Finding a good quarter inch can be different on every machine. 

Well, then how can I find my PPQI?  There are different techniques and you may even have your own.  Here are a few suggestions:

Lets go to your machine.  If you are able to move the needle - left or center - move the needle to the center.  Machines that have guide marks on the needle plate are usually measured from the center position.
Grab a ruler.  Lower the needle by turning the hand wheel towards you -always towards you, never backwards.  Place the ruler up next to the right of the needle.  Note where the quarter inch lies.  Is it the edge of the sewing foot?  Does your machine have the quarter inch marked on the needle plate?  Now you know where the edge of your fabric should lie.

Grab a stack of sticky notes.  Place a small stack of notes to the right of your quarter inch mark on the machine bed.  Use them as a "bumper" to guide fabric as you sew.

Grab some painter's tape - the blue stuff.  DO NOT use masking tape.  You cannot reposition it.  Masking tape leaves a sticky residue or just can't be moved.  This can be used as a guide, too.

Those are the two easiest.  Use one of these methods to guide your fabric as you sew.  Placement of the fabric before it goes through the machine is very important.  After it reaches the needle and is sewn. it is too late for changes. 

Maybe you have a quarter inch foot.  Quilters think that because they have the QI foot,  all should be fine.  Let's see.

Let's sew a seam and measure.

Is it a PPQI?  Do we need to adjust?  Do not force fabric up against the blade, or allow the fabric to stray too far from the edge.  Both can give unfavorable results. 

Other aids are helpful with guiding fabric and helping to assure that you are achieving the best  results.  This guide is awesome and you'll see more of it in later posts.  It has multiple uses and is from New Leaf Stitches and Kari Carr.

The PPQI should be actually a thread's width shy of a quarter inch.  Why? And this is where the thread you are sewing with matters.  When the fabric is opened, seams are pressed to one side or opened,  the fold of the fabric,  ever so slightly, adds to the seam allowance.  The heavier the thread, the fatter the fold (and the seam).  Threads are identified by weights - the higher the number, the thinner the thread.  Quilting thread can be 40 - 60 wt.  So back to our subject....  This is why you might see instructions for a "scant quarter inch."  Your PPQI  just might not be a quarter inch after all.

One final test comes by pressing the seam open and measuring the results.  Have you successfully reduced the stitched fabrics by one half inch?  For example, two squares measuring 2 inches should measure 3 and 1/2 inches after sewing.  No more, no less.

Now that we have the technical details of the quarter inch resolved, we are ready to move on to the next quilting fundamental - pressing seams.

Stay tuned!

What is your favorite method to achieve your PPQI?  I hope you'll share.