Piecing tips I wish I would have known as a beginner

Posted: 21 September 2015 at 6 a.m.

Piecing Tips

I’ve been piecing for 20+ years.  I’ve learned so much in that time that I can sometimes forget the learning curve I needed to overcome when I first started.  Today I share some helpful tips I wish I would have known as a beginning piecer.


1. Seams

It’s very important to use an accurate 1/4” seam! A difference of 1/8th of a seam allowance adds up quickly as you try to put blocks together.  A little too-big of a seam can result in your quilt being 3” smaller than it’s supposed to be. The solution is simple: use a 1/4” foot.   Next, practice until you feel confident you can use the foot to keep a straight, even seam

2. Pressing

Once you sew a seam, iron it in the direction the pattern calls for.  Press as you go.  It’s worth the effort because then everything fits better and you’re left with a completely flat quilt top.

3. Thread

I wish MasterPiece was around when I was learning.  Why?  Because MasterPiece cotton thread is fine enough that when ironed, seams lay totally flat (there’s no bulk!).  It also helps that it’s incredibly low lint so I spend less time cleaning out my machine.

4. Unpicking

I used to get so frustrated and upset when I noticed something wrong and needed to unpick my stitches.  I would think of it as such a loss.  Unpicking is not a loss, it’s a gain.  It’s the chance to do it better.  Now, there is a balance to this.  There is no need to unpick everything.  You are your own worst critic and guaranteed, unless you are piecing a show quilt, you are the only one that will notice that the corners are a millimeter off.


Do you have any piecing tips you wish you would have known as a beginner?  Please share in the comments below.

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Comments

  • 51. Sheila (24 March 2017 at 4:39 a.m.)

    After completing a quilt top I wash it. It comes unraveled when I sew 1/4 inch seams. What am I doing wrong?
  • 50. L. Potvin (23 March 2017 at 6:39 p.m.)

    I have learned to replace my needle with every large project, the finish is nicer. I agree that the 'bottom line" by Superior is wonderful. I use it for piecing and have also discovered Glide thread which is just beautiful for top quilting. It is lint free for our sewing machines.
  • 49. Zee (23 March 2017 at 6:09 a.m.)

    As a beginning quilt maker, these comments are terrific! Thank you so much for sharing.
  • 48. Zee (23 March 2017 at 6:08 a.m.)

    As a beginning quilt maker, these comments are terrific! Thank you so much for sharing.
  • 47. John (20 March 2017 at 11:49 a.m.)

    I have found that it helps to keep my size accurate when sewing on a diagonal line if I stitch 1 o 2 threads to the right of the line. This allows the material to fold neatly on the line and finish out exactly as requiredwithout distortion of the piece
  • 46. Lucinda (01 March 2017 at 2:04 a.m.)

    I tried all sorts of things to keep my rulers from slipping -- different brands of rulers, different products to apply to them -- but the only thing that really works I borrowed from my husband's workshop. You've probably seen the ads for it a million times. It's that spray-on rubber stuff, Flex-Seal (Flex Shot?) Clear. (HAS to be clear! Rulers are no good if you can't see through them!) Just give the back of the ruler a VERY light misting and let it dry. It does give the ruler a bit of a frosted appearance but not enough to keep you from seeing the fabric.
  • 45. Wilma (25 February 2017 at 1:59 p.m.)

    On suggestion # 4, it is actually called 'reverse sewing'! :O) :0)
  • 44. Anne (15 February 2017 at 4:13 p.m.)

    I mark the 1/4 inch line by almost spearing a ruler with my sewing machine needle, measure 1/4 inch away from the needle, then mark a line along my bobbin plate top with a Sharpie marker. Measure it out so you have a long line. I also mark the 1/4 inch spot on the leading edge of my plastic sewing machine foot with a Sharpie marker. Sometimes you have to renew the marker lines. Getting the seam allowance just right has subtleties to it, but don't give up (and I say don't worry about it if it is a little off!)
  • 43. Rachel C (14 February 2017 at 3:28 p.m.)

    I learned the hard way, to Spend the few Extra Bucks for a good rotary cutter, because you will actually save money in the long run, & never forget to use the ironing board instead of your expensive cutting mat. Lesson learned LOL!
  • 42. Pat (05 February 2017 at 7:38 a.m.)

    I have noticed when using a rotary cutter if you don't keep the blade straight against the ruler, it can wander and make your cut piece larger than intended. Also, the ruler can slip if you don't keep pressure on it evenly. Put your hand firmly on the ruler, and only cut to the height of where you are holding the ruler. Stop cutting but don't remove the blade, only reposition the hand holding the ruler to keep the blade as even as possible with the hand holding the ruler.
  • 41. kelly (30 January 2017 at 5:52 p.m.)

    I like using elmers glue sticks, rather than their school glue. It isn't wet and it washes out just as well.
  • 40. Judy Hostetler (27 January 2017 at 8:50 p.m.)

    I see all the comments about sewing a 1/4" seam, which is important. Equally important is cutting. You must be spot on the measurement that the pattern calls for-I learned this the hard way! It was my first time piecing and had the wrong kind of ruler for using a rotary cutter. The ruler kept moving and I'd just straighten it out so it would at least be straight. Well when I started sewing the pieces together nothing matched up quite right, boy what a mess - I abandoned that one and got those thick rulers and the 'sticky' buttons to put on the bottom to help hold it from sliding around.
  • 39. Sandra (25 January 2017 at 12:01 p.m.)

    Using high quality thread and the correct type of needle are so important. Superior threads have a lot of good information on their website. Needle and thread type are crucial for free-motion stitching, as is tension balance. If your thread is bunching up on the back it means you are threading your machine with the presser foot down. It needs to be up. You also should be bringing the bobbin thread to the top and holding both threads when you start free motion stitching. Start with a tiny stitch length and stitch about 7-8 stitches in a quarter inch to begin and end your stitching. You can then trim your threads or bury them in the quilt sandwich. Oh, and practice, practice, practice. It does get easier. Best of luck!
  • 38. Susan (18 January 2017 at 6:51 p.m.)

    Bonnie, Yes, iron first and starch if fabric is soft, your ruler may be slipping a tad when you cut so attaching some small pieces of sand paper to ruler will help. You can buy them at Joann,s. I do not sew with stretchy fabric for that reason. Cotton is best.Hope this helps!
  • 37. Bonnie (15 January 2017 at 10:57 a.m.)

    I am getting back to sewing after about 30 years. I am learning to quilt via an on-line class. Right now I have two questions: 1) I found that my cutting wasn't as accurate as it should be, so should I spray starch my fabric first, iron well, then cut for best accuracy. All tips will be appreciated. 2) I made a pillow cover for Christmas out of a very stretchy fabric I was not used to sewing on. I had many problems. Finally stitched the seam by hand, then with the machine, but it still stretched a bit. I though that if I had used paper underneath, that may have helped. I had to reduce the pressure foot tension and lengthen the stitch length also. Advice for sewing stretchy fabric to keep the seams from stretching? Thanks
  • 36. Robin Lauser (15 January 2017 at 3:20 a.m.)

    It's great being able to read everyone's helpful advice. Like others, I am a novice quilter and I really want to be increase my skills. I subscribe to the advice of practice, practice, practice and enjoy what you are doing. Mistakes are opportunities to learn and so it different. Thanks again
  • 35. Pam kitchens (13 January 2017 at 4:16 p.m.)

    I'm new to quilting as well and was hoping I could rely on my 1/4 foot what do I do. ?
  • 34. Jeanie (10 January 2017 at 6:08 p.m.)

    I found that buying cheap thread and cheap fabric work against you. Also, use the thread you thread your machine with in the bobbin too!
  • 33. valieda chartier (05 January 2017 at 9:30 a.m.)

    This is a great blog site, lots of practical solutions to common problems.
  • 32. Sharon (29 December 2016 at 4:51 p.m.)

    I have used a 1/4 " foot for yrs.Have never had a problem.As long as same needle position and thread for the entire project.Use one on my Jenome,Jukie and Featerweight.
  • 31. Linda (09 December 2016 at 3:43 a.m.)

    Laser marker for sewing that 1/4 seam or any sewing help u need with guiding. No sticky tape stacked next to your machine and no of any other stuff that will get in your way. U don't have to go get a fancy sewing machine upgrade with the built in laser in it. Just go to HARBOR FREIGHT store and buy this for $4.99. You will get choices of how to install it. Magnets,sticky tape and screws. If you have a computerized sewing machine DON'T USE THE MAGNETS!
  • 30. Debbie (17 November 2016 at 11:09 a.m.)

    Test your accuracy. Cut two pieces of fabric 2 1/4 inch wide. Sew them together and press. You should have a 4 inch wide 'block.' If not, adjust your needle position or fabric placement. Different fabrics can have different results. If your block isn't going together as expected, sometimes flipping it and sewing in the opposite direction helps.
  • 29. Donna (09 November 2016 at 11:43 a.m.)

    I too am new to quilting and discovered my 1/4 inch foot can accommodate 3 needle positions. To the far right is a scant 1/4" middle position is a 1/4 inch. Left is a scant larger than a 1/4". Mostly I use the scant 1/4" with great success. And I agree knowing and listening to your machine makes a huge difference. I have a Baby Lock Soprano.
  • 28. Bernie (22 October 2016 at 10:46 a.m.)

    When free motion quilting I find my thread bunches up, most annoying, I'm using good thread. Can someone give me any suggestions.
  • 27. Jill (08 September 2016 at 10:28 a.m.)

    Like your comments. Is the thread Master Piecing available in Australia?
  • 26. Karen (08 August 2016 at 12:54 p.m.)

    For Marilyn who is having trouble with her machine quilting. Needle size and thread is very important when machine quilting. I have a Viking Sapphire and when I free motion quilt I always use a top stitch needle in a size 90/14. I have had success with most threads but for some reason my machine does not like to free motion quilt with Sulky thread. I get skipped stitches, etc. I use King Tut thread for most of my free motion quilting but I have used some others as well But needle size seems to be the most important. I don't fiddle with my tension.
  • 25. Margaret (18 June 2016 at 9:42 a.m.)

    Kathy - regarding making your squares for your half square triangles a bit bigger, I totally agree. I used to follow the advice of adding 1" to the finished size I wanted - instead of the "officially" recommended 7/8" which is supposed to give you a "perfect" finished size - and NEVER did for me!!! However, I have now taken it one step further and I add 1 1/8" to my size - eg - for 4" finished half square triangle, I cut my squares at 5 1/8" - I have found it is even easier and quicker to sew and trim down when you have just that little bit more still to play with. I only revert to the 1" extra if I am really tight for fabric.
  • 24. Margaret (18 June 2016 at 9:31 a.m.)

    Marylin - the secret of success with Free Machine quilting is not normally tension or stitch length but speed! When you lower your feed dogs, the stitch length you set on your machine is irrelevant as it will not function without the feed dogs. The way to control your stitch length is to keep an even speed with your foot control. medium to semi-fast is often better than very slow. The next thing is PRACTICE, PRACTICE AND PRACTICE again!! That honestly is the best advice you can get! One tip that was given to me is to try writing your name with your stitching because this is something your hand is very used to doing (your signature) and so the movement is quite a natural one!! It did help me. Good luck and don't give up.
  • 23. Kathy (17 June 2016 at 10:43 a.m.)

    The best thing I learned was to forget all those techniques I had tried to make half-square triangles, and just make them a little bigger and cut them down. My piecing is now extremely accurate and the quilt goes together like a dream.
  • 22. Marilyn (09 May 2016 at 6:41 a.m.)

    I am new to quilting but i cannot seem to get my seeing machine to free motion quilt it is a new janome,but i just can't get the stitches right i have tried going up and down with the tension and different stitch lengths .please can somebody guide in the right direction thanks.
  • 21. Marilyn (09 May 2016 at 6:40 a.m.)

    I am new to quilting but i cannot seem to get my seeing machine to free motion quilt it is a new janome,but i just can't get the stitches right i have tried going up and down with the tension and different stitch lengths .please can somebody guide in the right direction thanks.
  • 20. Josephine (18 April 2016 at 8:21 p.m.)

    I keep a roll of adding machine paper (yes, they still sell it!) with my sewing supplies. When I am sewing a sheer fabric I place the paper under the fabric. It stabilizes the fabric and is easily removed as the needle has pierced it. If you make the strip of paper longer than the length of the fabric, this area is used as a lead onto the fabric. At this point you will not have to worry that the fabric will get swallowed by the dog feed.
  • 19. Linda Reagan (08 April 2016 at 2:06 p.m.)

    Dianne, put your tape up to the, I assume you meant feed dogs as you cannot cover your presser feet, and stop right there. You won't need the tape after that because you are already about at the needle. Start your tape as far back toward you as you can. If you use three or four layers of tape, they will act as a sort of wall to prevent the fabric from slipping to the right. I use a Sew Easy Table and that gives me a great deal more surface for my fabric to lay on and for me to tape my lines.
  • 18. lkmanuele (24 February 2016 at 10:07 a.m.)

    I use blue painters tape to mark how wide a seam I want to sew.
  • 17. hazel (09 February 2016 at 7:53 p.m.)

    When I was teaching my son to sew I drew straight lines (used a metal tape measure) on my sewing machine base with a sharpie (it's white plastic). I've since redrawn them several times to help me be straight...wish I'd done it years ago when quilting long pieces.
  • 16. Marsha (09 February 2016 at 5:23 p.m.)

    I just recently discovered I was using my seam ripper wrong and making more work for myself. Turn the seam ripper with the ball down. Hold the the seam in be between your thumb and forefinger and just slide the seam ripper along the seam. So easy, and the long sharp picking end of it, doesn't rip into your fabric, because you can see it in between the layers, on top of the seam. Yay!
  • 15. Nancy (06 February 2016 at 6:23 a.m.)

    If the fabric bunches in the first stitch try starting the stitch on a piece if scrap and then chain stitch into your piece.
  • 14. kay gibbs (05 February 2016 at 1:53 a.m.)

    "From my sewing machine mechanic-sewing machine feed dogs wear out (down) after a while. I use an old 1950 black singer so I replace my feed dog every 5-6 years. Once they're worn fabric wont stay straight as you sew.
  • 13. Gloria Richmond (04 February 2016 at 1:51 p.m.)

    I went back to old school. I use the old ruler that has a 1/4" and I use chalk to make my perfect seam Now my squares match up perfectly. It is time consuming but it works.
  • 12. Renee Hall (04 February 2016 at 4:09 a.m.)

    The type of thread you use will help on your scant 1/4 seam. Use a thinner type of thread
  • 11. Jennie (02 February 2016 at 2:35 p.m.)

    Whether your seam is a scant 1/4" or an actual 1/4" doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. A scant 1/4" is about 1/32" less than a true 1/4. What is important is that you cut accurately, your seams are all the same seam allowance and you press as you go. But the main thing is that you enjoy the creativity of sewing.
  • 10. Debbie Allen (02 November 2015 at 1:32 p.m.)

    What exactly is a "scant 1/4" seam allowance? If my 1/4 foot isn't a scant 1/4", then how do I correct it to give me a scant 1/4" seam allowance? Sorry, I'm new to quilting and I'm already seeing inconsistencies in my piecing that I don't know how to correct or know why it's not fitting together properly. Thanks!
  • 9. Beryl (22 September 2015 at 7:49 p.m.)

    Learn to be your machines best friend and listen to it when it tells you it needs oil or cleaning by sounding different when you sew. You can really hear the needle making a punching sound when losing its point when trying to keep sewing for you, and has a different sound when it needs oiling.
  • 8. Beryl (22 September 2015 at 7:40 p.m.)

    If your machine wants to eat the fabric when you first start to sew a sew, especially with fine fabric. Stick. a little piece of masking tape over the hole where the needle goes to solve the problem. You could buy a special plate with a small hole for the needle but it is expensive and by covering the needle hole solves the problem.
  • 7. Kay Prihoda (22 September 2015 at 7:59 a.m.)

    The best piecing begins with accurate cutting with the grain lines straight. Even the smallest error in cutting will create headaches when piecing. Prepare your fabric. If it is the least bit too soft use some starch. Warm the fabric first with your iron; spray; allow it to soak in or pat it with hour hands and then press. It makes piecing so much easier.
  • 6. Mary (21 September 2015 at 10:52 p.m.)

    a 1/4 " foot will do you no good unless you calibrate it along with the needle position. The foot will not move but the needle can. Check each time you turn your machine on to see how accurate your needle position is. To maintain accuracy you might need to move the needle a bit.
  • 5. SDquilter (21 September 2015 at 5:51 p.m.)

    The iron is your friend. Set your seams and press the seam according to the pattern instructions. It keeps the wrong side neat and the end product will look good.
  • 4. BMG (21 September 2015 at 4:31 p.m.)

    I have several 1/4" feet and they are useless. None of them measure correctly and my pieces never fit. So I tried putting tape at the exact 1/4 spot from my needle and it covers one of the pressure feet! That causes a whole other problem!!
  • 3. Dianne (21 September 2015 at 4:17 p.m.)

    I wish I had know of using Elmer's School Glue to piece. I can sew intricate, small pieces together using a tiny drop of the School Glue (must be School Glue as it is a starch and washes out). I put on a tiny spot of glue, align my seam, squish with my fingers, press the area with the tip of my iron, then sew. No pin issues, no issues with the seam shifting.
  • 2. Chain Piecing (21 September 2015 at 2:57 p.m.)

    Chain piecing is my nemisis....I find that I go off in lala land and don't watch the "end" of each piece...therefore I get crooked seams that don't match up like they should. For me, I find sewing each section of one block and joining them together better because I am alert and not drifting into lala land.
  • 1. Judy (21 September 2015 at 2:36 p.m.)

    1/4 " feet will give you a seam that is too large. The seam allowance must be a scant 1/4 " and the feet that are out there are exactly that measurement so you end up with things that are too small and don't fit together. I wish the machine manufacturers could get that fact and make the feet accordingly. One of my pet peeves

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