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Cutting and Sewing Strips for Quilt Making

If you are planning to do the 9 Patch - Over & Under Mystery Quilt or any 4 or 9 patch blocks and you haven't done much strip cutting or rotary cutting and sewing you may want to read some of the links here and do a bit of practicing.

How to Rotary Cut with Diagrams

A Lesson on Rotary Cutting by Judy Martin

To check your seam accuracy before beginning the "real" project:

Take some fabric that you can use for practice (muslin or faded or something you weren't going to use). Iron it and using a rotary cutter and ruler made for use with a rotary cutter cut across the fabric selvedge to selvedge. Cut 3 strips, each 3.5 inches wide. (If you don't have full width fabric, that's fine - each piece should be at least 24 inches long so you can try a few times).

I find that if I "think generously when I cut" and "think stingy when I sew" my 1/4 inch seams come out accurately. This means that when you lay your ruler along the cut edge to measure your width make sure that the edge of the ruler is just inside the edge of the fabric at the cut edge - so that you can see a fine hair of fabric to the outside edge of the ruler's edge, thus giving yourself a little smidgen of excess width.

Then, when I sew my one-quarter inch seams I sew just inside the 1/4" edge (I usually use a 1/4" foot on my sewing machine) so I sew with just a bit of my 1/4" foot over the edge of the fabric to sew a scant seam.

Make a one-quarter inch sewing guide:
For easy, accurate sewing of a LOT of strips (as we will be doing for this Mystery Quilt), I'm going to put back my "1/4 inch guide" on the base of my sewing machine. To make this I cut a strip from a piece of template plastic with heavy duty scissors. The strip was approximately 9 inches long. I cut it into 3 equal parts and stacked these into 3 layers with the straight edges carefully aligned on one side (the other side doesn't matter). I stick mine together with 2-sided scotch tape between each layer (you could use glue, too).  I have heard of this being done by stacking up tape as well, but I like the hard edge of the template plastic as it doesn't get soft and start changing position.

Now take one of your accurate quilting rulers and VERY gently lower your needle to a SCANT 1/4" position on the ruler. Butt the little stack of strips you made up against this edge and have a strip of 2-sided tape on the underside of the stack. Press it firmly to the bed of the sewing machine. Make sure it is parallel to the sewing line of your machine.

Now do a Strip Sewing Test

You can do this test with your 1/4" foot, but I'd recommend setting up the above "sewing guide" and testing that as you'll find you can go really quickly sewing strips with a guide to run along the edge of your strips as you sew.

Take the three 3.5" strips you cut and cut off 4 inches from each. Sew these three strips together.
Press the seams first closed and flat (as you sewed them) from the right side of the fabric to set the stitches.
Then press the seam with the strips opened, press the seams to the side.

Measure the width across the 3 strips. If you sewed accurate 1/4" seams your finished 3 strips sewn should measure 9-1/2 inches. 

Note about 1/4 Inch Seams
After all the above about making perfect 1/4 inch seams - I'll add now that you don't have to make your seams perfect 1/4".  IF you do all your seams on the same sewing machine and they all are the same size, it doesn't really matter if they measure a perfect 1/4 inch. The important thing is that they are all uniform! If you read any of Mary Ellen Hopkins' books or have taken her workshop, her technique is that you can have your own "private measurement" and match that. I agree that this is true - but, for myself, I find that if I try to learn to control and make a 1/4" seam it makes everything I do compatible and easier to assemble.

Back to the 9 Patch - Over Under Mystery Quilt

See also the Article here on Four Patch Blocks - for good tips on simple block assembly.

Susan Druding


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