Sew a Fine Seam – The Scant Seam

Welcome to my next instalment of the Sew a Fine Seam series of blogs. 

In my previous Sew a Fine Seam blog I mentioned the ‘scant’ seam.  You will hear this quoted as the only way to get accurately pieced blocks but what exactly does it mean and why? 

When we see a block we would like to make it’s usually drawn or printed on a page of a book or magazine. This is a 2D image which we try and make out of a 3D substance – the fabric.  Fabric has a depth, albeit a tiny one, but we have to accommodate this thickness.  

(As an aside, fabric is graded by weight rather than thickness.  The weight of one square metre of fabric will give you the grade of fabric. The heavier the weight usually means the fabric is thicker. Quilting cottons are usually of a medium weight.)

Once we have joined our seam we need to press the allowance on the back over to one side – ‘the dark side’. (Yes, remember that space film and I’ll cover this in the next blog.)  The folding process reduces the size of the seam allowance by a scant amount, meaning that this will change the actual width of the block. To try and stick to the perfectly drawn 2D image of the quilt block we are trying to create,  we need to allow for this tiny amount and so we sew a scant seam.  Literally a tiny bit towards the raw edge of the seam allowance. 

So, how do we get a good scant seam?  I now introduce the 1/4” foot for your machine or drawing a line to sew along for hand piecing.  Let’s look at these separately.

For machine sewing a quarter inch foot is a handy guide to help BUT these are rarely accurate and they can bend a little too! The best thing to do is to check the seam allowance of your particular foot and, armed with this knowledge, you can change your needle position to make the required adjustment.  If you are unable to move your needle position,  you can adjust where you guide the fabric to make the relevant change.

1/4″ Foot. The guide on the right side sets the distance from the needle.

To check your 1/4” foot take three pieces of accurately cut fabric: 1 1/2″ by 2 1/2″ Rectangles. Sew two of them down their length.  They should finish to make a 2 1/2″ square.  Take the third rectangle and sew it across the top.  It should fit exactly. If not, it will indicate exactly how much your foot it out.

Hand sewing – I do like to mark my seam allowance which is easily done.  You can use your clear rotary ruler which should be marked with the 1/4″ but I find a Quilter’s Rule useful. Not so cumbersome and much cheaper.  They are around £2 and you can get them in both 6″ or 12″ lengths.  They are a 1/4″ square of plastic which you position against the raw edge and draw a line done.  

Drawing the line also needs attention. Use a sharp pencil or marker and make sure the nib sits right up against the ruler.  If you just draw without care you’ll find your line is millimetres away from where it should be and is a common mistake. The advantage to hand sewing is that it is more forgiving. You can make minor adjustments as you go along to ensure those points aren’t lost. 

Another tip is to position your rule with the 1/4” just off the edge, and I mean a tiny amount. Then, when you draw the line, the mark will be precisely at the 1/4 rather than being 1mm to the right of where it should be. 

These little hints and tips can help you improve your piecing and get to grips with the magical world of patchwork and quilting.  Next time we’ll take a look at pressing which can make a world of difference…

Until next time, stay safe and keep quilting!

Rotary Cutting Made Sew Easy….

I frequently get asked how to make rotary cutting easier for the beginner or for the experienced quilter who has joint issues.  This can strike anyone at any age as someone who suffered RSI throughout my 30s and 40s quite severely, holding a quilters ruler steady whilst cutting can be difficult.  My son’s girlfriend has been staying with us for a while and I recently taught her to make her first quilted cushion – she’s now obsessed and has 30 projects lined up but she struggled with rotary cutting due to weak wrists, as she put it.

Sew Easy Quilters Ruler Handle

But what can we do about this? Sew Easy have a product they kindly sent me to try to see if it makes it easier to hold a ruler steady whilst cutting. When I opened the box I found it smaller than I’d imagined – but that’s not a bad thing.  It’s much easier to store and pack to take to workshops.  Some others I’ve experienced are very large lumps of plastic which,  although work, can be heavy themselves and a pain to cart around.

The Sew Easy Quilters Ruler Handle is roughly 4″ long with two suction cups to attach it to your plastic rotary ruler. The idea is that it spreads the load of the downward pressure you apply whilst cutting, giving a firmer hold.

The handle is ergonomically shaped to allow the fingers to rest naturally and is quite comfortable.  Although, I frequently used it with my hand resting on the top, again comfortable.  I found the suction cups stick best with a little water to dampen them and were also easy to remove by lifting the edge with my fingernail.

Then it came to trying it out – would it work, holding the ruler firm,  as I cut fabric? My first fabric cut was a narrow sashing band from a full width of fabric.  I was cutting 1 1/2” strips and I did find it was best to move the handle closer to the edge when dealing with such narrow strips. ( But I was cutting through eight layers to really test it! I normally only cut a maximum of four.)

The only problem with this was that the measuring line I wanted to see was under the handle and a bit tricky – but I wouldn’t normally cut like this. My only other criticism was that it was a little wobbly when used with my long 24″ ruler. I found it most useful with my smaller rulers which I usually favour for cutting down the width of fabric strips I’ve already cut with the larger one. 

Moving on to a less extreme test, I began cutting for a beginner sampler quilt I am assembling ready for my new workshop at Strictly Quilting HQ.  

This less extreme test, cutting a sensible number of layers was successful. It certainly helped in holding the ruler straight. I cut a variety of strips and smaller pieces and found the more I use it, the more comfortable I am with it.

Overall, this is a useful addition to your rulers. It certainly lessens the stress on the wrists and I’ll keep it handy from now on. 

Special thanks to Groves for providing the Sew Easy Quilters Ruler Handle for review. 

Sew a Fine Seam – Why Imperial?

Welcome to a new series of blogs that will concentrate on aspects of patchwork and quilting for the beginner but those who have enjoyed the craft for some time may also pick up some hints and tips.

You may be an experienced seamstress or tailor, or not touched a needle since your school days but learning to make quilts a fantastic skill.  I always say that when learning P&Q you are learning two different crafts.  Imaging a family tree – one for patchwork and one for quilting.  You travel up the trunk of the patchwork tree and find that it splits into many, many different branches.  Do you prefer hand sewing or machining? Let’s take the hand sewing branch. Oh look, appliqué – needle turned, fusible or raw edge? The machining branch is the same, each splitting into infinite branches down which your needle may take you.  

Under the needle

Once your top is made we then have to tackle the quilting tree.  Again, hand or machine?  The machine branch can split into domestic machine, mid or long arm. Walking foot or free motion. When you first start it’s easy to think that the simple baby quilt you are making as a gift is all that is involved but it is just the first step of what, for some of us, is a lifelong journey.

In this series I’m going to cover a few of the basics to help you take your first steps.  I am a firm believer in ‘learn the rules like a pro,  so you can break them like an artist’ – a quote from Picasso – and he was right.  Often, I have found those basics I learnt at my local quilt shop (LQS) years ago hold me in good stead for problems I face now. 

So, where do we start?  With sewing a fine seam.  In patchwork we use a 1/4″ seam allowance which is narrower than we use when sewing other items, the standard being 1.5cm (5/8″).  

We use inches in patchwork and quilting “but why?” I hear you cry.  There are a couple of reasons.  Firstly,  a lot of the patterns we use originated from the pre-decimal era. In America patterns were printed for public use in magazines and newspapers and were available to purchase by post from the mid 1800s.  These were obviously in Imperial and are a wonderful source to explore.  

Hand Quilted Pinwheel block.

Secondly,  the 1/4″ seam allowance is easier to measure than the exact metric conversion of 6.35mm.  Accuracy is everything when piecing and the more consistent you can be will ensure a good result. This sounds scary but using Imperial measurements is simply easier.  

Another reason is that a lot of our patterns and products come from America where P&Q is a huge business, considerably larger than that of the UK, or even Europe as a whole.  We do purchase our fabrics by metric, cm and metres, but we then work in inches for the making.

As said earlier, a lot of the patterns we use were originally devised in Imperial.  Let’s look at the traditional Nine Patch block.  A set of nine squares joined together.  Usually one of the first blocks we learn how to make but let’s get to the maths.  

In Imperial, this is easy to change the size of the individual squares to change the block size to make a quilt of any dimension but doing the same in metric is more tricky.

Nine Patch block finished size 9″, unfinished size 9 1/2″ (9 inches plus the two 1/4″ seam allowances). 

In metric this is 228.6mm finished or 241.3mm unfinished.

Let us round up those numbers to make it simpler.  We know that we use a seam allowance of 6.35mm – for ease we can use 6mm as we should use a ‘scant’ but I’ll come to that later.

Our 9” block would be 22.8cm – we’ll round up to 23cm.  Add on the 6mm seam allowance for both sides and you get 24.2cm for the finished block.  

You can see the problem. 

And so inches it is. 

In my next blog, we’ll take a look at the scant seam. I’ll give a few hints and tips on how to get the perfect seam allowance for both machine and hand piecing in our journey to sewing a fine seam.

Until next time,  stay safe and keep quilting.

A New Arrival

Well,  this week has been full of excitement – the arrival of my new workshop.  Admittedly it is still in pieces (and my, there are a lot of pieces) but like a good quilt, a little time and it will soon be up ready.

I ordered the log cabin from Dunster House who were recommended by two different people.  I’ve certainly been impressed so far – the two men who delivered the cabin were so careful with the stacking and placement of the different bits I’m confident that it should be a fairly easy job to assemble. They were very Covid secure too!

Another feature of the past week was my UKQU blog, Sew a Fine Seam part 1, was published.  You can find it here and it covers why we use inches – Imperial measurements – for patchwork and quilting which can be confusing for the beginner. 

The next blog will cover the ‘scant’ seam allowance – what it is, why we try to use it and how with both machine and hand sewing and should be out soon.

I’ve also been playing with YouTube and setting up my own Channel with the aim of posting some videos and slide shows once the workshop is up and running.

Finally,  my copy of February’s British Patchwork and Quilting magazine arrived in which, is my feature on the lovely Portishead Quilters and their efforts to make quilts for veterans.  A fantastic project and was a privilege to write. You can also see my Ombré Bubbles quilt from the last issue here too!

Until next time, stay safe.

Double Fold Binding Tutorial

How to add a double fold strip of binding to your quilt edge, how to mitre the corners and join the strip.

You’ll find a Backing and Binding Calculations pdf to help you work out how much binding you need for your quilt. You can download a copy so you always have it to hand. The normal width of the Double Fold binding strip is 2½” but I actually find 2¼” gives a better finish. Use whichever you feel comfortable with, you could start with 2½” and, when you feel more confident try 2¼”.

Cut the required number of strips at your chosen width such as 2¼”.

Join with a diagonal seam. This spreads out the seam allowance in the binding so you don’t end up with a bulky lump which would happen if you joined with a straight seam. To do this lay your first strip, right side up. Lay your second strip, right sides together at a 45° angle. Fold over the corner and press a diagonal line from one corner to the other. This becomes your seam line. Sew and trim the excess leaving a ¼” seam allowance. Press this open to reduce bulk further.

Join across the diagonal.
Trim leaving 1/4″ seam allowance

Fold the strip in half wrong sides together along the length and press.

I find it helps to sew a narrow stitching line around the edge of the quilt, about 1/8″ from the edge. This gives a solid edge to join the binding too but you don’t have to take this step.

With the quilt pieced/right side up, align the raw edges of the quilt and the binding. You can pin the binding in place if you wish but you may find it easier not to. The binding does ‘shift’ as you sew it in place and try and avoid having a join at a corner, the excess fabric makes it tricky. The foot of your machine will push some excess fabric towards you as you sew.  

Making sure you leave at least 6″ of the start of the binding hanging loose and begin stitching with a 1/4″ seam.

Start sewing leaving at least 6″ of binding free at the start.

As you approach a corner, fold the binding to the right and finger press a 45° line across the corner. This is a guide only. You may find the fabric moves a little as you approach and the fold is to help you see where the 45° line should be to exit the corner. You want to stop when you reach this line (usually just before your fold), lift your foot with the needle down, and turn to head along this 45° line off the corner of the quilt. Cut the threads to move onto the next side.

Fold and finger press to form a crease line.
Crease to give you an idea where to stitch.
When you reach the line, stitch off at a 45° angle.
Crease is a guide for the 45° angle
Fold the binding to the right,
Continue all the way around.

Fold the binding out to the right and then bring back, aligning the short side with the edge of your quilt. This will allow room to turn the binding giving you a mitre at the corner when you come to Slip Stitch it down on the reverse. You will have a triangular flap of binding on the inside. 

Turn your quilt so you are starting again at the corner and repeat down the next side. Continue until you are approaching your starting point but STOP about 8″ short.

Stop leaving a rough 8″ gap.

Now we come to joining the binding. Trim one end of the binding in the middle of your gap, the section you haven’t joined yet.

Overlap the other end of the binding and trim with an overlap of the same width of your binding. You can use a piece trimmed off to measure this. If you have cut the binding to be 2½” then the overlap should also be 2½”.

Trim one end of your binding to the centre of your gap.
Use the scrap trimmed off as a measure.
Trim second edge, width of overlap should be the same width as the strip.

You can now bring both ends of the binding right sides together at a 45° in the same way you joined the initial strips. Fold to show your seam line and sew. It can help to add a couple of pins to hold it in place. Sew along the diagonal seam line.

Both ends trimmed.
Right sides together, join the binding with a diagonal seam as before.

Sew a diagonal seam.

Check it fits, now is the time to adjust.

Before trimming the excess check it fits properly. Now is the time to discover mistakes as you can easily unpick the seam quickly and re-sew. Once you are happy, then you can trim the excess, align the raw edges as before and sew the remaining binding gap closed.

Trim leaving a 1/4″ seam allowance.
Sew gap closed.

All that remains is to fold the binding over the the reverse side and Slip Stitch the binding to the back of the quilt. I like to use plastic clips to hold the binding in place whilst I hand sew.

I hope this series of images has helped with adding a Double Fold Binding. You can download the Backing and Binding Calculations sheet here:

Ombré Bubbles Lap Quilt

The December issue of British Patchwork and Quilting magazine has landed and I’m excited as you can find my Ombré Bubbles lap quilt as one of the projects.

British Patchwork and Quilting magazine, Dec 2020 issue.

Made from delightful fabrics in ombré batik shades from EQSUK they really pop with warm colours. The collection is called Landscape Batiks from Kingfisher Fabrics. They would also be perfect for textile art due to the colours which change and drift across the surface.

If you’d like to find stockist information click here.

Kingfisher fabrics, Landscape Batiks, EQSUK

Made using the Drunkard’s Path block which is really fun and versatile, you can play with the layout to make different designs. The Drunkard’s Path block was named for the weaving path that you can get using this block. It was also adopted in the early 20th century by the prohibition movement.

Ombré Bubbles in progress on my design wall.

I use a simple three pin method to sew the curves and it is much easier than you think. The ombré fabrics work so well as you can change the colour balance by using a different section of the fabric. If you are interested in a workshop on the curves of the Drunkard’s Path block, contact me at Helen@strictlyquilting.com.

Ombré Bubbles lap quilt.

Meet Pearl the Singer

I’ve recently bought two lovely old Singers at auction and the first, dated 1939, was in a sorry state. She has become my first attempt at a mini restoration.

1939 Singer – poor condition

Tackling a revamp of an old sewing machine has always been on the cards but I’ve not actually attempted it before. I did a bit of online research and then took the plunge. These machines are well engineered, which is why they lasted so long, so there isn’t too much to go wrong other than not putting it back together correctly.

I confess to having a piece left over at the end and having to reassemble her again but it was easier than I thought. The hardest part were the small springs in the bobbin winder unit. These are sprung so the bobbin engages with the drive wheel at the back. The only thing missing is the small rubber disc which would connect with the drive wheel and turn the bobbin winder when the handle is turned. I’ll be on the look out for some kind of replacement.

Elbow grease, along with some sewing machine oil, and she is so shiny now.

Garden Flowers Blog Hop 2020

Hawaiian Garden, Helen Kent #GFBH2020

As you may know I write blogs for the website www.UKQU.co.uk which is a wonderful resource for UK quilters. It’s a platform for small independent designers and shops from the UK to sell and interact with customers. It is also full of advice, free patterns and blogs on all aspect of P&Q. This month, September 2020, a new idea was launched – the Garden Flowers Blog Hop 2020.

I was lucky to have been chosen to publish the first of these blocks – a Hawaiian inspired block based on my own garden. I had been playing with a little Hawaiian appliqué for my new Doris sampler quilt and loved the process and effect. When the idea was suggested that the Bloggerati, as we call ourselves, come up with an idea for free pattern for blocks based on flowers I knew exactly what I would do.

I was stunned to see an example started that day by Zoe Davies from Fine City Quilting, someone I’ve not met before but what a wonderful example. She did a couple of things differently, such as edging the leaf with a Satin stitch rather than the traditional needle turned edge. It shows how you can play with a design to make it your own.

Hawaiian block, Zoe Davies, #GFBH2020

A new free pattern for a 12″ block is to be released every day so it’s worth checking out the site. Today’s is a lovely Gem Thistle block. This one was designed by a recent convert to quilting – Keren Baker. I love the modern fresh look this one has and in her blog, Keren has suggested different ways to use this pattern and turn it into different flowers, such a carnation or even an acorn! Very clever!

But how do you use these? I hear you ask… I was thinking a sew a row quilt would perfectly show off these blocks – the thistle below would look amazing!

I can’t wait to see what comes out in the following days and eagerly await the wonderful floral quilts which will hopefully be created….

Geo Thistle, Keren Baker #GFBH2020

Doris Day a Month Workshop Launch.

I am so excited to be able to bring a new sampler quilt to those who would like to develop their skills on an improvers course. This quilt, named ‘Doris’ after my grandmother, uses many different techniques from traditional ones to newer developments. I can’t wait to get started.

Doris Day a Month Sampler Workshop

The Doris Sampler Improvers Course is conducted over eight days held monthly. Each day will look at two different techniques working on two blocks a day, except for the large central Mariners Compass which will have a day to itself. You will be required to complete any unfinished blocks at home between the days.

We begin on day one with a recap on American style block piecing, both hand and machine options can be covered but I like to ensure everyone starts at the same level, knowing some of the hints and tips I normally include in my beginners classes. The first block, the Variable Star, uses both Half Square Triangles and Flying Geese and we look at how tonal and colour placement changes the look of the block. The second block, the Snail’s Trail, introduces working with triangles. Every session will included some ideas on how to use these blocks individually in a quilt design.

Day two we will look at the dreaded Y seam in the Le Moyne Star block and then move onto piecing curves with the Drunkards Path. Both are simple once you know how.

English Paper Piecing is a very traditional technique but I wanted to show that you don’t need to just use this for hexagons. The Dutch Rose is perfect using lots of different shapes. We then move onto the first of our appliqués – Hawaiian. I just love the simplicity of these designs which originate in the South Pacific and use needle turned appliqué.

Bonded appliqué comes next with some lovely Tyrolean Hearts, these are so cute, before moving onto Stained Glass Rose block. Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement this technique uses bias strips to act as the lead in the window.

Day five we move onto our Foundation Paper Piecing, firstly with a Pineapple block. This we do on a single foundation but the Interwoven Star, which comes next, uses several sections which you learn to piece together. 

The Mariner’s Compass takes a whole day to itself. It is a striking centrepiece for which we will use Paperless Foundation Paper Piecing. A newer technique which is ideal for this as we use less paper, better for the environment and a little more practical too! We can also use this day to catch up and check that everyone is on course.

In the last of our block days, day seven, we use up our scraps in the Clam Shell block and finally our Improv block. This is a day to play and now worry so much about precise cutting but stitch those scraps to make a wonderful block using various techniques such as Stich and Flip. 

Finally we come to our last day in which we look at the border using strip piecing in the Seminole style. This was a form of patchwork devised by the Seminole indigenous peoples of the Florida region and uses strips of fabric to make row type patterns.

There will be an option to add an additional day for those who aren’t so confident in layering and quilting, should you need it. We have a wonderful location to work in at The Rolls of Monmouth and have a full Covid safe plan of action (and risk assessment) in place. Any questions or to book visit my Workshops page or email me at Helen@strictlyquilting.com.

Hope to see you soon. Helen

Workshop Safety

Hopefully, we are looking at the loosening of the lockdown over the coming weeks. Some outdoor activities have been allowed and we’re able to meet our friends or families in gardens and parks.  It looks like shops will be next on the list but how does this impact the workshops where we learn new skills, develop our techniques and generally get together for a nice days sewing?  Well, I’m lucky enough to be married to a heath and safety expert who is leading his company’s reaction to Covid-19 so I’ve been discussing with him the safety procedures we need to take on board to be able to operate fully in a workshop situation.  (Of course, I’ve also bribed him to write my risk assessments.) For this blog I thought I’d cover the health and safety aspects that I’m putting in place to reassure you that my workshops will be safe to attend in these difficult times.

I run workshops at The Cotton Angel, a small shop with a workshop area, and at The Rolls of Monmouth, which is a late Victorian Gothic mansion situated in a stunning golf course. The difficulties in both these venues are slightly different but the main idea the same.  Social distancing has become the by-word of the present day and 2 meters the defined distance for the UK, at present in June.  Direct face to face contact is the enemy as this is how Covid-19 spreads quickly so this is what we try and avoid.

You will, I’m sure, have seen physical barriers, such as at the clear plastic screens at checkouts of supermarkets, but these aren’t exactly practical or workshop friendly.  A clever option is to site your workstations back to back or facing the wall, significantly reducing the chance of virus spread.  So, with this in mind, in the shop we will be siting the workstations around the edge of the room, facing the walls. You will still be able to talk across the room to everyone but will be sited at a safe distance. At the Rolls we have the benefit of larger conference rooms which we can spread out at a much larger distance. I will be applying the same ideas, back to back or staggered work areas.

The Rolls of Monmouth Golf Club

It has been proven that being outside lessens the chance of picking up the virus and, if indoors, having good ventilation is ideal. For the shop we have the capacity to open windows, which will happen for the workshops so you may need to think about bringing an extra layer. It is horrible to be cold and certainly reduces your enjoyment of workshops so stick in an extra top or two if it’s a bit chilly. The Rolls, being a huge historic building, has plenty of opportunities for good ventilation. We may be sited in the Orangery, where we can open French doors onto the patio, beyond which the deer of the park regularly gather, or perhaps the ‘new’ dining room where a large bay window gazes majestically over the 18thhole. The building is heated but the rooms are large so again it might be a good idea to add a jumper to your workshop equipment.  

Talking of equipment – stick to using your own, not borrowing items as we used to. I will have items to lend along with plenty of hand sanitiser and wipes but if you can bring everything with you it reduces the risk of cross contamination. Hand washing is still the best way to kill the virus so wash on arrival and prior to departure as a minimum. Both locations have toilets and washing facilities so this won’t be a problem. 

The Cotton Angel, 2 Church Street, Monmouth. NP25 3BU. 01600 713548

We do sometimes use the shop’s sewing machines, if you can bring your own I would suggest that it would be a better option. All workstations and machines will be wiped both before and after the sessions. As we normally stick to our own it’s unlikely that there would be a problem but better safe than sorry. Following on from this, if you would like to wear a mask, I leave that decision up to you. I have a clear plastic face shield for when I need to come close to individuals.  This will significantly reduce any risk as I should be the only person that may need to approach within the 2 meter distance. 

We would normally have stopped for a refreshment break mid-afternoon, an excuse for cake, but this won’t be provided for the foreseeable future. You are welcome to bring your own drinks, perhaps in a keep it warm mug, but they will not be provided at The Cotton Angel. At The Rolls we may, as soon as they are allowed, have the option of a take-a-way service. Ask at time of booking as government advice is constantly being updated.

If you are feeling poorly in the 24 hours prior to the event, please let us know. We can simply move you to another date so don’t be worried that you will loose out. At the moment we all have to make allowances and if you happen to be worried you might be starting to suffer or have been asked to self-isolate – let us know. It will not be a problem to rebook you on a different date when you are feeling better or can return to society.

After all, this period of lockdown has been socially hard for all of us – although I have been working hard on new projects – but I for one can’t wait to see you all again. Take care and stay safe!