Friday, August 5, 2011

Being Precise Matters

The members of a quilting group I belong to each volunteered to make a couple blocks to be used in a quilt we're making for someone. We're all making the same block pattern. We each have the directions and they're good, thorough directions. I made the same block some years back for a block exchange with a different group of quilters.

I also volunteered to piece the blocks together for this quilt.

Last Sunday, I got out the blocks and measured and trimmed them. Most were okay but a few weren't, so I put them aside for later. Later came knocking on my door tonight.

Really, it was a little like the Goldilocks story. A couple of the blocks were too small. So small in fact that after taking them apart to see what I could do to fix them, I finally decided I had to abandon all hope. It just wasn't worth the time and there was little that could be done to salvage them.

Four or five of the blocks were too big. Those, of course, I had a better chance of fixing, so that's what I spent the evening doing: Taking apart, trimming, and re-sewing.

And it's the weirdest thing. One part of the larger block consists of a smaller 9-patch block made of plain squares and half square triangles. When I took the blocks apart to trim them, I quickly realized the 9-patch pieces had been cut irregularly and not to any real measurement. As a quilter, I can't imagine "guess-timating" the size I'd need to cut such small pieces. But, yet, I can't figure out what method the quilter was using to get the right sized pieces if it wasn't simply by guess work.

The longer I quilt, the better I get at piecing, and I think a big part of my improvement has come about through the realization that being very, very precise in cutting and stitching makes a huge difference. As I reconstructed quilt blocks tonight, I remembered that some of you have left comments over the past several months, telling me you're fairly new to quilting, so I thought maybe this would be a good opportunity for me to pass on what's probably the most important thing I've learned about quilting: Be precise and consistent in measuring, cutting, and stitching.

As an exercise to test yourself and/or practice with if you're interested, next time you have to make 25 of the same block, measure each one and compare it to the others. Measure between seams to see if you're consistent there too. If you're not, try again and figure out exactly where to line up the edge of your fabric on your sewing machine--either on the plate or by using the edge of your foot as a guide--so you end up with a consistent 1/4" seam allowance.

I'm going to try to remember to get some photos of blocks as I'm piecing them so I can demonstrate some of the things I've found that help with block accuracy. And I know it will be a bit of basic Quilting 101 for many of you, but I think it's important to pass our knowledge on to new quilters, so please bear with me. In fact, if I post some basic quilting tips and directions and you have anything to add, please leave comments with your tips too.

When it comes to quilting, what do you struggle most with? And how long have you been quilting?


Sunnybec said...

It's funny you should post about this, I have just made my first sampler blocks, cutting all the fabric and piecing all the blocks together. All my pieces fitted (I was very surprised!) and I loved doing it. Most of the other things I have made have been from charm squares, and my piecing hasn't always been accurate. I have just took some charm squares and measured them and some are different sizes!!! No wonder my piecing isn't spot on. Hmm does this mean I have to check and trim every single charm square before I can use them....great.

Suzan said...

The downside of doing a block exchange or working on a group project is that not everyone is precise. I would not send anyone something other than my best work. I don't know why a 9.5" unfinished block doesn't mean the same thing to everyone!

I have been quilting for seven years. My least favorite thing is piecing little bits. I would lose my mind completely if I ever tried to do a miniature quilt. I don't know if it is the tedium or just the fact that I have fat fingers!

Donna said...

I'm a bit over a year into the quilting world. Love it! The most difficult part for me is the cutting. If I have learned anything, I learned to install a NEW rotary blade - OFTEN!

Sharon M. said...

I've just experienced this same problem. I recently acquired 10 sampler blocks, all in Batiks, and all were, at first glance - "nicely pieced" - - NOT.
A few were too large, almost half were too small. Some of those I managed to take apart and resew, as thankfully the seam allowances were generous. One was beyond help - I resorted to just sewing a 1" strip around all four edges.
Why can't people take pride in their work? If it needs to be 12 1/2" unfinished, why do some people submit blocks that are 13", 12", 12 1/4" etc.etc.?
Quilting is a precise art. This especially shows up when several different quilters make the same block, using the same instructions.
This was a good subject to address.

Donna said...

I just started quilting recently. I have stuck to fairly simple (forgiving!) patterns, this way I can practice getting my blocks/seams consistent and precise. I'm still working on it, but I am enjoying quilting! I find it so relaxing!

pcflamingo said...

I've been quilting since 1971 (!) and I still have to sew carefully and trim between steps to be sure of ending up with the right side block! I quilt for a group that makes charity quilts and sometimes we are given tops to finish off into completed quilts. Some of the tops have to be taken apart so that the seams between the blocks line up and so that one side of the quilt isn't 2 or 3 inches longer than the other! I recently helped make blocks for our annual fund-raising quilt but they were all paper-pieced so I couldn't goober it up!

Josie McRazie said...

I have only been at it for a very short time now! I think my biggest struggle is consistancy and keeping my 1/4 inch seam allowance. My sewing machine does not have a 'cheater' foot so I went to the store and bought a magnetic guide! It has helped me a little! I do still have to remember to slow down!! It is not a car and driving fast can get you a speeding ticket!! Sewing fast gets you crooked seams!!

Anita said...

I struggle with cutting a long strip of fabric without a curve. I usually fold my fabric over with two folds, my mat and ruler aren't long enough to go the length of just one fold.

Gran - Knot-y Embroidery Lady said...

Oh, the joys of dealing with the "that will do folks" and the "just sew folks". Hugs.

Marla said...

I agree Kim. You just can't be too picky when it comes to measuring, cutting and sewing to obtain accuracy. I measure 3 times to cut once. I am slower than a lot of folks but rarely have to rip out and do again because it.

Anne said...

If you ever get the chance, take a class from Sally Collins. You will spend the whole day making a 3 inch basket block, but when you leave, you will be a really precise 1/4" sewer. She's really fabulous!

Sandra Coleman Clarke said...

I can sympathize with your problems. It is amazing how "supposed quilters" can come up with so many different sizes for their blocks. It tests the patience of
Job to get them to the usable state. You are quite adept at doing this and I am amazed at the projects you complete!!! Have a wonderful, relaxing weekend.

The Twilight Quilters Coven said...

Good luck trying to get people to piece with an accurate 1/4" seam.... Most people will blame you for thinking it's important.

Annette said...

As careful as I am to cut and sew accurately, I still trim and square my blocks at each step. I always find some that need trimming, and those 1/16ths and 1/8ths can add up quickly! It's a bit tedious, but that little pile of trimmies is surprising, and it's so nice when everything lines up precisely.
I've been quilting since the 80's, but never have enough time to sew! I must have 20-30 UFOs and WIPs. Maybe once the kids are grown?

Deb said...

I've been quilting since 1999 and sometimes still have trouble with the accurate 1/4" - even when I try really hard - sometimes the thread you use can play a large part in that accuracy, taking up too much space or not enough. But, you're absolutely right accuracy is the most important part of quilting.