Learning how to match seams for quilting and sewing can be a rewarding, satisfying experience, or a horribly trying experience, depending on how carefully you work. We all want a beautiful quilt with crisp seams and corners. Have you put together a quilt that is not as accurate as you would like it to be? This is perfectly normal at first. It happens to everyone! Even experienced quilters sometimes have a corner point that is just not sharp and precise. Trial and error and lots of practice definitely play a part in making all your pieces line up perfectly.
How To Match Seams
Tips For Matching Up Seams Perfectly
When learning how to match seams, plan ahead, and start working precisely right from the beginning.
If you use some spray starch on your fabric before you even start cutting, you will reduce the amount of stretch in each seam. It is always a good idea to pre-wash your fabric before you start, and this will remove any starch the manufacturers have put into the fabric. Some quilters prefer to spray starch the entire fabric before cutting. Some prefer to cut first, and then starch. Whichever method you prefer, be consistent all through your quilt.
Be sure your rotary cutter blades are sharp and that your measurement marks on cutting boards and rulers are clear and easy to read. If you cut inaccurately, your seams will not match up, no matter how carefully you sew!
Quarter Inch Seam Allowance
The reason this is so important is that your seam allowances must be consistent. If you have some slightly wider and narrower, your patchwork pieces will not line up, no matter how carefully you have cut them. Other sewing projects may have wider seam allowances but accuracy is still important.
If you have a ¼” (6mm) sewing machine guidance foot, use it! Be certain your machine foot is ¼”. Don’t just eyeball it and assume that it is! Measure it. If you don’t have a special ¼” (6mm) foot, find another way of marking that allowance on your machine.
How to Mark Seam Allowance on Your Machine
- TAPE - For example, place masking tape or painters tape on your machine bed at exactly ¼” (6mm) from the needle. Some people prefer to build up a thick layer of tape, so that it wedges the fabric into place, and doesn’t allow shifting.
- BANDS - Some like to place a thick, firm elastic band around the bed of the machine to mark the ¼” line.
- MARKER - You could mark a ¼” line on your machine with a ruler and a permanent marker.
- GUIDES - It is also possible to purchase seam guides which adhere to the base of you machine, but can be removed when necessary. These come in various widths.
Use Your Seam Ripper
Most of us really dislike our seam rippers, because using them means we have messed up and need to re-do our work. Try to change this mindset! Buy yourself a special, sharp, seam ripper that is a pleasure to use!
If you can see that you have stitched inaccurately or your seam is wobbly, rather pull it out than just hope it will sort itself out later. It won’t get better! It will only get worse, your pieces will not match nicely, and you may end up spoiling your entire quilt. Just unpick that wobbly seam. It won’t take long, and it will make matching your seams up so much easier.
While stitching, stop with your needle in the ‘down’ position if you have to stop for any reason. This is like having an extra hand that holds your fabric in position and does not allow any slippage. It will help keep your seams straight and accurate. Many sewing machines have a feature that allows you to pre-set the needle position when you stop. If yours doesn’t have this feature, manually turn the flywheel on the right-hand side of your machine to place the needle in a down position to hold the fabric in place while you remove a pin (or whatever needs doing).
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How To Match Seams For Quilting - Step by step
For seam matching purposes, let's assume that you have constructed strips of patchwork, which now have to be assembled into blocks.
- PRESS - Press all seams as you go, even while sewing together the initial strips. Now you need to be sure that the strips are pressed in alternate directions. One strip with all seams to the left, the other with all seams to the right.
- NESTING - When you place your strips on top of each other, the seams pressed in opposite directions will allow ‘nesting’. This means that the seams align perfectly and fit into each other like puzzle pieces. You will be able to feel this with your fingers before you start pinning or stitching. You can feel that the seams bump up against each other. Check each seam as you sew along your strip.
- PRESSING METHODS - Sometimes, depending on the design of your blocks, this perfect plan does not work out! you have a join where four fabrics all need to join at one point. In this case, rather press your seams open to reduce bulk. Plan your pressing ahead of time. Read more about how to pressing quilt seams.
- PRESSING TECHNIQUES - While we are talking about pressing, remember not to push your iron along the fabric. This may distort or stretch it, resulting in different sized blocks. Of course, if blocks which are meant to meet up at seams have been stretched, they will no longer fit together perfectly, and your seams will not match. Starching your fabric does help with this problem.
- PIN PLACEMENT - When lining up straight seams, place a pin straight down into the seam line. Push it all the way in, just straight down. Now place the underneath piece of fabric under it, right sides together, and make the same pin go straight down through that seam line too. Your fabric is not secured, but will now be perfectly positioned. When you have it exactly in place, place a pin on either side of this marking pin, in the conventional way, to secure the position of both rows of fabric. Remove the ‘marker’ and continue to do this with all the seams along the strip. Match the seam lines first, and only pin the ends of the rows afterwards. If you are working with large blocks, more than about 4-5” (10- 12.5 cm) place pins in the center of each block as well to prevent any shifting.
I am a fan of removing pins just before you get to them, rather than stitching over them. Opinions vary on this point. I feel that a last-second removal prevents your needle from hitting the pin and getting blunt, or breaking.
- SEWING - As you sew, keep feeling the way the seams are lying with your fingers. Be sure you can feel the nesting if they have been pressed in opposite directions. Concentrate on which way the seams are facing as you sew. Even if the seams have been pressed open, you can still feel if the seams are matching up.
- INSPECT - Also, be sure that the bottom seam does not get flipped up or bunched up while sewing. This will cause lumps on the right side. Be aware of each intersection as you get to it. Slow and steady wins the race for perfect seam alignment!
Try to sew your seams as straight as humanly possible. If you sew a wavy line, you will have an uneven seam, and your measurements will be out.
How to Match Seams with Triangles And Points
When sewing any shape with points, make sure that the actual tip of the point does not get buried inside the seam. There must be a bit of seam allowance above or below the tip of the point, or your points will not be crisp and sharp.
When lining up rows containing points, use the same method described above, of pushing a marker pin straight down into the actual point, matching it with its opposite point, then pinning conventionally on either side of the marker pin. Do this with all points along the row to be sewn.
How to Match Seams - Finishing Blocks
When you have stitched the first two rows together, open it out and inspect your points and intersections. If it looks wrong, get out that seam ripper and re-do it! If everything is lining up nicely, it is time to press this new seam. If you have a lot of bulky intersections, press open. If not, press to one side.
Continue by adding the next strip to your block in the same careful, precise way. When all the rows are sewn together, check the final size of your whole block. You can trim it to size if it is just slightly out, but be careful not to cut into any points! If you have cut and stitched it carefully and accurately, it will be the right size.
How to Match Seams for Quilting - In Conclusion
Once you have each block assembled to the correct size, use all the same guidelines to join the blocks together to make the entire quilt top. These simple tips should go a long way to ensuring that your quilt assembly is indeed rewarding and satisfying. They will go a long way towards creating that beautiful quilt with well-matched seams! Thanks for reading - how to match seams.