Quest for the Perfect Quarter Inch Seam

Sometimes you have to go back to the basics.  I am currently participating in two reproduction quilt projects – the Civil War Block of the Week and the Farmer’s Wife Sampler Quilt.  Each week I am challenged with new and sometimes intricate quilt blocks.  I am discovering that my piecing skills could use some fine tuning – in particular my 1/4″ seams.  It is frustrating to select just the right fabric, cut as precisely as possible, piece the block and find that it doesn’t fit together as expected and is not the desired size when complete.

So this week I have taken some time to work on this skill.  My first resource is a book called Quilter’s Academy – Vol 1 – Freshman Year.  Written by Harriet Hargrave and her daughter Carrie Hargrave, this book includes step-by-step instructions on how to sew 1/4″ seams. I also attended a demonstration by Marci Baker not too long ago, in which she included lots of tips and techniques for getting 1/4″ seams.

Well, actually, we don’t really want true 1/4″ seams.  We need scant 1/4″ seams because of the thickness of the thread and the fold of the fabric when the piece is pressed. Our goal is the have the perfect size block which we can get if we reduce the seam size just a smidge.

My sewing machine (a Janome 6500P) came with a 1/4″ foot.  This is what I’ve been using. And that is where my problems started.

See the little black metal guide on the right side?  If I feed the edge of my fabric along that guide, I actually end up with a seam that is a bit larger than 1/4″.  That reduces the size of two pieces of fabric stitched together by just a bit.  Well, when you have four or five pieces of fabric stitched together, they could end up to be 1/4″ too small.  Well that is HUGE in the quilting world and will cause all kinds of messes and frustrations!

When I attended the Marci Baker demonstration I purchased one of her tools called Sewing Edge.  This is a reusable vinyl stop that I setup to use as a sewing guide:

Now it was time to test it out.  The Quilters Academy book suggests the following:

  • Select a light fabric and a dark fabric, cut 2″ strips that are 7″ long (the book includes lots of good information on accurate cutting).
  • Place a light and dark fabric right sides together.  Make sure your edges are exactly aligned – don’t leave a bit hanging over from one side or the other.
  • Stitch your scant 1/4″ seam.
  • Press toward the dark (believe me – the section in this book on pressing is awesome!).
  • Stitch the third fabric to the other two so you have a light, dark, light or dark, light, dark pattern.
  • Now is the moment of truth.  Measure the set.  It should be exactly 5″ wide.
  • And the center strip should be exactly 1.5″ wide:

If the center is less than 1.5″, then your seam is too wide.  If your center is greater than 1.5″ then your seam is too narrow.  Adjust your guide and try again.  It took me nearly a dozen tries before I got two in a row that were correct!  Practice makes perfect!!!

Now I’m looking forward to working on the Civil War Block of the Week and the Farmer’s Wife Sampler Quilt this week so I can put my “perfect” scant 1/4″ seams into practice!


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5 thoughts on “Quest for the Perfect Quarter Inch Seam

  1. Great explanation , must have a hunt for that book. I have worked out that on my Bernina there needs to be a tiny gap between the edge of the foot and the sole plate, as in, i can’t cover all of the feed-dog area. I shall be interested to see your comments on the CW BOW this week and will want a big “Hurrah” from you if it comes out perfect

  2. I feel your pain with the 1/4 inch seam. I had to adjust the sewing machine needle position on my machine, and then I sew to the side of my sewing foot. I tried the 1/4 inch foot but had no luck at all with stable seams.

  3. I also had no luck with the ‘1/4″ foot with guide’ that was so highly praised when it came out… and agree with your method being much more accurate. Every machine is different – we just need to learn how to cooperate with them! 😎

  4. Pingback: Civil War Quilt BOW – Star of the West | Cookie's Creek

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