Thursday, January 26, 2012

Quilting How-To: Simple Piecing

So I've written about choosing fabrics and strip cutting; now I'm at the step where you take all that fabric you cut apart and lovingly put it together again. Maybe sometime in the future (when I'm working on the appropriate project) I'll talk about piecing more complex shapes, like triangles, but for now I'll just consider simple piecing of rectangular shapes. Rectangles are simple because they always line up on one side—at least, that's the goal.

Now, I pre-cut all my pieces so I could pair the fabrics together in squares, and make sure I had a balance of pairs before sewing. (I didn't want all of fabric 1 to be paired with fabric 2, I wanted it matched equally with the other 11 fabrics.) This precluded doing real strip piecing, where you leave at least one fabric in long strips, sew pieces of a second fabric to the strip, and then cut them to the appropriate size. Still, I could save thread by stitching in series, rather than piece by piece. I had at least two blocks of every two-fabric combination, so I made piles of the two sizes of strips. I sewed the first seam of the first block, let the machine go a few stitches over, then fed in the first seam of the second block, like you see in the first picture. After I was halfway through the second block's seam, I could cut the first block off the stitching and match it with a piece to do the second seam. By alternating back and forth between two blocks in this way, and not stopping and cutting after each seam, I minimized the amount of thread used between seams. When you're stitching 240 blocks, that could be a lot of wasted thread.

So once I had my blocks made and laid out (I'll cover that in a separate post), it was time to sew them together. Here is the trickiest part of piecing: getting  seams to match. As you can see from this photo,  I had to match these two edges where three pieces were joined together. I wanted those two middle seams to match exactly. Now, you can carefully measure while you're cutting your pieces, and carefully set your machine to sew an exact ¼-inch seam, and still not get your edges to match. Seams can be bulky and messy when you sew them together.

But do not fear! There is a trick to getting your seams to match, and it's all in the pressing. When I initially pieced the blocks, I did them in pairs like this one. I knew these seams would be abutting each other, so I carefully identified one fabric as the "dark" and one as the "light." For the center seam, I always pressed the seam towards the "dark" side (in this photo, the green fabric). So on one square, the center seams were pressed to the outside. On its opposite mate, they went to inside. In this way, when I aligned the edges, I could match the seams and have an equal amount of fabric on either side. Pin the seams together and you have a very good chance of aligning your seams.

Of course, you still have to be careful when stitching, especially if the bottom seam is pointing up (towards the machine). If you're not careful, the motion of pulling the seam up towards the machine will flip the bottom down, and then you have a bumpy seam. But if you're careful, you get a nicely aligned seam, like the one in the finished picture here.

When you get to the stage where you're piecing blocks in rows, and then stitching whole rows together, you again need to be conscious of which way you're pressing the seams. I generally wait until I've sewn a whole row together, then I press all the seams in the first row "up." All the seams in the second row go "down," so I can do the same aligning of seams. I double-check, row by row, until I'm finished. The smoother the seams, the smoother the quilting. But that's getting ahead of myself. You'll have to wait for a future installment to learn about that.

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