Best Tips for New Quilters & how to get that elusive scant ¼ inch seam allowance
There are lots of things I would have loved to know when I first started out on my quilting journey. Like how to cut fabric. Yeah, that would have been über helpful! (and also on my list of tutorials in the works!)
But the truth is, most of my quilting experience has been self-taught, pieced together through blog posts and YouTube videos and lots and lots of trial and error. I would have loved to have a quilting buddy that took me under their wing and shared the ins and outs.
Thankfully, along the way, I’ve met some amazing quilters who have been so kind and generous with their knowledge – and it’s those amazing quilting friends that I turn to when I need to work through a challenge, get inspired or just have fun seeing how they approach things.
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BEST TIPS FOR NEW QUILTERS
To help you along in your quilty journey, here are my tips to share with you:
PRACTICE BRINGS CONFIDENCE
With every quilt you make, you learn, you practice, and you get better. Period. When I realized this, I was really encouraged about embarking on my quilt journeys. They didn’t seem so daunting and each one was helping me learn and grow as a quilter. A great reminder that skills are learned, and practice makes you more confident, so things take less time.
DON'T LET FEAR STOP YOU
Just dive in. Face the fear of the unknown and dive in. It’s the only way you’ll learn and get better. And more often than not, it’s never as scary or as hard as we imagine it to be.
FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU
Don’t worry about the quilt police. I haven’t personally met them yet, but I’ve also come to learn that there are multiple ways of doing the same quilty task. What I encourage you to do is to try different ones to see which one feels best to you. Find what works for you no matter whether it’s deemed the “right” way. For example, I tend to pin baste because I don’t like the idea of spray basting – the fumes (which I’ve been told aren’t that bad), the sticky factor (preventable with a sheet) and the price per can (that stuff isn’t cheap).
So, I pin baste. It’s a lesser evil than thread basting (which I’ve tried and didn’t love) and my *pins are reusable, which makes it feel less wasteful and more ecofriendly. But that’s me. If you’re all in on spray basting, then go for it! I know lots of quilters who spray baste to great effect, with *this one getting rave reviews.
KNOW THE LINGO
Familiarize yourself with the lingo! Experienced quilters will start speaking in acronyms and you’ll instantly feel better knowing exactly what they mean when they say place your fabric RST and stitch a ¼” SA. Say what?! To help decode all this RST (right sides together) and SA (seam allowance) talk, I’ve got a list of typical acronyms used in the community.
MEASURE YOUR SEAM ALLOWANCE
An accurate seam allowance is super important and will save you endless hours of frustration when you pull it all together in a quilt. This partially comes with experience, but mostly it comes by measuring your actual seam allowance. This sounds scary and confusing, but it couldn’t be simpler. All you need to do is grab one of your trusty quilting rulers and measure from the tip of your needle to the edge of what you think is a ¼”. Since I can’t change the position of my needle on my Juki (some machines have this fun feature), I measured from the tip of my needle to the edge of my presser foot. This gives me a scant ¼ SA.
Alternatively, you can also stitch a seam and then measure to see how your seam allowance stacks up.
Now a scant SA stumped me for the longest time. How do you measure a scant ¼” SA? Am I back in geometry class? But it essentially means you stitch a fraction or hair length away from that true ¼” line. You do this so that it accounts for some of the fabric you lose in the fold after pressing it flat. I always stitch with a scant ¼” SA, it’s just my natural go-to now.
There’s also a *¼” presser foot that you can buy, or, in my case, that come with your machine. Full disclosure, I rarely use this foot – even though it was THE foot I really wanted when I purchased my Juki. Reason being is that I found it to be TOO generous on the ¼” side of things. This may be specific to my Juki, so you might want to test yours out to see how it measures up.
IRON VS. PRESSING
Press don’t iron. Now that’s probably just semantics to most of us, but along the way I’ve learned there is a key difference! When you iron clothing, we move the iron back and forth, which is what is typically referred to as ironing. But in quilting, you want to “press” your fabric flat – meaning, pick up the iron, place it down for a few seconds (without moving it back and forth) and then lift it up and place it back down in another area. You continue in this manner until your fabric is flat.
This is the same technique used when my patterns call for “setting your seams” – place your iron on the seam you just stitched before you press it open. This helps set your stitches (helps them sink into the fabric) and warms up the fabric making it easier to press your seams open or to the side.
I still have a tendency to iron instead of press, because it ‘feels’ more natural to me to iron than to press! The drawback in doing this is that you can stretch and distort your blocks. I’m not aggressive in my ironing, so I don’t get much of that, but I did in the beginning.
INVEST IN THE RIGHT TOOLS
Invest in the right tools. You don’t need to go gang busters buying every tool and notion out there – cause you’ll just end up spending your precious fabric dollars on tools you’ll seldom use. I’m quite selective in the tools and notions I bring into my studio and shared my Top 10 Quilting Tools with you awhile back. I’ve updated a few things, but these tools are still pretty much the ones I use today.
You can find links to most of the items here.
WATCH WHERE YOU'RE GOING
Look ahead to where you want to go when you’re piecing and not at the needle. It’s like driving, you don’t stare at the bumper in front of you, you always want to be looking ahead. This will help you stitch in a straight line too 😉
CHAIN PIECING FOR THE WIN
Chain piece whenever possible! This is a genius time saving and thread saving technique that also happens to be super enjoyable!
All it entails is continually feeding your patchwork through the machine one after another without clipping your threads in between. They will be “chain pieced” together and then you can snip the threads in between.
I like to break up my projects into chain piecing sessions for maximum efficiency and enjoyment. It goes a little something like this: take a stack of cut pieces to the sewing machine, happily chain stitch away, then snip, snip, snip, before taking it to the ironing board for some pressing action!
Rinse and repeat 😊
DON'T FORGET TO HAVE FUN!
Have fun! That’s why you’re doing this, right?! So, don’t take it too seriously. Don’t worry about what others are making. Don’t worry about whether your fabric choices are right. Don’t worry about where you’re at in your journey. Just focus on having FUN!
Now, it’s your turn! Leave your favourite tip to share with new quilters in the comments below!