I am so excited about the opportunity to share a blog post today on the Quilters Candy website. In that post, I present a few ways to create the illusion of curves in quilts and share a tutorial and free pattern for The Encompass Quilt.
The blocks in this quilt are small, so today I would like to offer tips for piecing narrow strips. In fact, you might find an idea that improves all of your piecing!
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start with crisp fabric
Precision starts with cutting and with strips this narrow, it helps to have crisp fabric. Before you begin cutting, press the fabric well and spray with sizing or starch. This is especially important if you pre-wash your fabric and it no longer has sizing from the manufacturer. The fabric does not have to be stiff, but you want to the folds to be firm and the fabric to be nice and flat on the cutting mat.
Change your rotary cutter blade
Since the blade dulls gradually, you may not even notice that it is requiring more effort to cut. This quilt has a lot of cutting and you don’t want to make multiple cuts when the blade doesn’t cut through cleanly the first time. Sometimes the blade will skip a thread or two and it results in an edge on the fabric that isn’t completely straight. Go ahead and change the blade. You will be amazed at how much easier the cutting will be.
Make sure your cutting mat is in good condition
I am so guilty of using a cutting mat until it has deep grooves. It is false economy because of the extra effort it takes to cut once a mat begins to deteriorate. Sometimes the mat collects stray threads in the grooves and that can create inaccurate cuts. I am in the market for a new mat, so if you have a favorite, let me know!
Some of the strips for this quilt vary in length by only 1/2″ so it is easy to switch them. Regardless of what I am piecing, I try to sew more and rip less. Keeping the parts in order helps me stay on track. Years ago I collected some new pizza-size boxes for blocks of the month. I still use them to store works in progress. They are large and have a top, but are not deep, so even if you drop the box, the pieces inside tend to stay fairly organized.
use good thread
This is not the place to use up any old thread. I have hundreds of spools of thread, and am typically not that picky, but for these narrow seams, a finer thread can be beneficial. Thread weight is determined by how many meters it takes to weigh a kilogram so the higher the number, the finer the thread.
There are three cotton threads I recommend. My favorite is Presencia. It is a 60/3 thread so it’s fine, but has three strands wound together for strength. Next is Auriful on the orange spool. It is a 50/2 so each strand is a little heavier than the Presencia, but only two strands wound together. The third is Signature 50/3. Even though it has three strands of 50 weight it is still a fine thread and is very strong. Any of these threads should give good results.
Test your seam allowance
Everyone says they have an accurate seam allowance, but for this project, you want to make sure. Start by testing just how accurate your seam allowance is. Cut three strips of fabric, each 1-1/2″ x 5″.
Sew the three strips together and press the seams to one side. Now measure the width of the strip set. If it doesn’t measure exactly 3-1/2″ wide, adjust your seam allowance and repeat the test. As you can see from this post, there are several things that can affect accuracy so make corrections and keep trying until the test strips measure accurately.
Use diagonal seam allowance tape
Once you find the correct seam allowance, make sure you can keep it consistent. One way to achieve it is by using this diagonal seam tape on your machine bed.
It will help you align the seams and provide a visual aid for maintaining an accurate seam allowance.
Don’t pull on the strips when sewing
You want to feed the strips through the machine gently. Don’t pull or tug on them as they go through. If the pieces are not fitting together accurately, go back and figure out why. You do not want to stretch the strips or it will create bowing and the resulting blocks will not lie flat. Simply align the raw edges, line up the seam allowance and let the machine feed them through.
Last, you want to make sure the seams are pressed completely flat. Check to see that there is no little tuck or fold at the seam. The pattern calls for seams to be pressed to the side so make sure each seam is correct. I use steam, but if you find it is distorting the blocks, then use a dry iron. Make sure you do not stretch the blocks while pressing.
I hope you find these tips for sewing narrow strips useful, not only for The Encompass Quilt, but all of your piecing. If you have any additional suggestions, let me know in the comments and I will give them a try. I am always looking for ways to make quiltmaking faster, easier, and more accurate!