Quilting like a Pro—
Surefire techniques to piece, pin and press perfect points
A reader writes asking:
What techniques are available to match all the points in a Storm at Sea patchwork design (or other pattern with lots of points)?
How do I get the points in the diamond pieces perfect and even?
...comes in three parts:
I speak directly from my own experience.
Others, I'm sure, will have different answers. It is my hope that if you do, you'll share yours using the Facebook comments at the bottom of this page.
In general, I have very few blocks of time to spend quilting. I must grab the little bits of found time and stitch them together to make a quilt these days.
When you don't have regular practice—and quilting is all about practice—you may need to compensate for lack of honed skills.
The following tips and techniques are how I compensate. Maybe they will work for you, too!
No matter how tired I might be or discombobulated my quilting time is, one thing that I CAN DO
reliably is sew on a printed line. The more consistently I'm on that
line—especially at the beginning and ending of it—the easier it will be
to piece either the units of a block together or the blocks, themselves,
into a top.
So I do a lot of paper piecing.
On this website, you'll find a fair number of 'building block' units for which I've provided paper piecing patterns. That's because I use them regularly in my own quilting projects, substituting them into patterns that I've either purchased or designed myself.
That's why the Storm at Sea block patterns on this site are paper pieced.
used the Tri-Recs rulers(right) in the past and really liked them. I use
connector corners frequently, but don't care for the waste of fabric in
general, and rarely sew out the 'bonus' half square triangle from the
excess (I mean, seriously, who needs more 'stuff' in a box to save and
So paper piecing (for me) is the one way that I can make perfect units regardless of how tired or distracted or seriously out of practice I may be. Perfect units make for blocks that go together slick as a whistle.
I'm also willing to trade 'mindless-idiot' time in front of the ol' boob-tube ripping off the paper for that accuracy.
To help myself even more, I'm a huge fan of heavily starching my fabric before cutting.
I believe my cuts are more accurate. I love that I can
frequently fingerpress my seams instead of jumping back and forth to the
iron all the time—saving time with less interruptions. And I get perfect points almost always the first time.
For blocks with lots of half square triangles in them, like the Eva's Garden above, I'll paper piece those HST borders, too. The accuracy of the units and the ease with which they go together more than compensates me for the time spent removing the paper pattern.
I have Electric Quilt 8 software and regularly use it, so quickly creating a pattern isn't a time-suck for me.
While I prefer paper piecing, when it comes to traditional techniques my three biggies for creating accurate blocks with perfect points are:
So now that I've created as perfectly pieced a unit or block as possible, where it's important that the points match, I pin.
My two tips are:
our Storm at Sea block, you are repeatedly matching the point of a
Square in a Square (or Economy Block) to the point of a diamond in a
I generally don't care which unit is on top when I pin, though preferring that the same unit is on top for a session of pinning. It's more efficient that way.
Remove the paper before sewing units together. Using starch and pre-cut patches ensures that the outside edges are on the straight of grain. There's no benefit to leaving the paper in place.
With the two units to sew together, from the back side of one, insert a pin perpendicularly through the unit so that the point comes out on the front exactly at the deepest point of the valley of the unit.
It must be perpendicular and it must be coming out the right side at this point. Where it goes in on the back side—not so important, though in the photo below, it does look pretty good.
Now insert the point exactly in the deepest point of the valley on the second unit. It should pierce this point so that the pin is perpendicular to the fabric. This might seem nit-picky, but when being off by a couple of threads can effect your perception of how good the match is, it's these little things that make all the difference.
Pull the two units together on the pin, again making certain the pin is perpendicular to the layers.
Insert pins on both sides of the original one through the fabric layers. It's important to catch the layers of the unit, but if you can avoid pinning through the seam allowances, do so. There's less distortion that way.
Match the edges of the units and pin, adding more if you need them. (This is about what makes you comfortable in your stitching.)
Sew the quarter inch seam with your favorite foot. (Some quilters prefer to baste the match point first and check it. If it's a good one, then they restitch the seam at a normal stitch length. I prefer to just go for it.)
After stitching, check your match at the sewing machine.
Quite simply, I'd rather pin than rip. A certain number of matchings are going to be off enough that this ol' perfectionist is going to re-do the seam even if they're paperpieced.
Anything, simply ANYTHING I can do to minimize this will make me feel better about my quilting.
After I've decided if the match passes muster and the points are perfect, it's time to press.
First press with the patches as they were sewn, in the closed position. Then I open the patches, pressing either to one side or open.
Early on in any project I decide on the pressing directions of the seam allowances, preferably in my practice blocks. Generally, press to avoid bulk if you'll be quilting the finished patchwork on your home sewing machine.
Frequently this means pressing seams open. Here, however, the seam allowance is pressed toward the red/darker fabric.
Sometimes the difference between good-looking perfect points or an iffy match is whether the seams were pressed open to to one side. Sometimes it's which side the seam is pressed towards. That's just how quilting is.
And finally, use this pressing technique for impeccably flat patchwork.
And that's all there is to it.
Piece accurately, use pins to match point to point and press to perfection.
Practice these techniques and you'll be stitching perfect points in no time!
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