My story on 1/4″ seam allowances, part 1.

Every quilter has a story about their first ‘big quilt’ they completed, and what struggles or “ah-hah” moments they’ve had. I love reading about other quilter’s experiences, good or bad. This is my experience with my first ‘big quilt.’

Even with the knowledge I gained from tutorial videos, quilting how-to books, and conversations with helpful coworkers, I had to learn hands-on the importance of an accurate 1/4″ seam allowance. I had to make mistakes (over and over I might add) until I got it right, in order to understand how important this seam allowance is. I am convinced that practice makes perfect (well almost). We even have a cool picture tutorial all about sewing an accurate quarter inch seam allowance. Check it out here!

At work we test our patterns for accuracy and I tested, “Fall in the City” (available this summer) designed by Melissa Burt. It’s a really nice pattern for the adventurous beginner because it uses lots of strips to form blocks. I chose to sew mine up in Urban Odyssey.

Mistakes I made:
1) Switching Machines: I used two sewing machines, one at work and one at home. Not such a good choice. Why? Because your 1/4″ will be off, even if you put tape down and measure it accurately. I highly recommend using a good ¼” ruler to measure your seam allowance, like this one from Olfa.
 2) Measuring: I measured 1-2 times before I cut, but I think 3 times is good… Oh, and stop cutting when you get tired. That’s when mistakes happen.
3) Cutting: I cut too many layers of fabric at a time. Inevitably, some were way off, and I even used these strips because I thought I could ‘compensate’ by adjusting my 1/4″ seam allowance to be slightly more or less. That made things REALLY complicated, and I’ll never do it again!

Notice all the wonky, unevenness? I had to rip out SO many stitches! Below you will see some of my photos. I put painters tape on my sewing machine plate, and I measured my needle position very carefully–after that it was much easier to sew accurate quarter inch seam allowances. I was even able to confirm that my blocks were indeed measuring 6-1/2” square, thanks to my handy Omnigrid ruler.

That’s all for now! Stay tuned for part 2 when I reveal how my rows came together with my sashing, and my finished quilt top!




  1. Joyce Thomas - March 9, 2012

    I used two different machines too to make several quilts. I found using the same brand helped and I took the 1/4 in. Foot from one and used it on the other machine. I think it’s not so much the machine as the foot that makes the difference in my case. Both machines are Kenmores. I also measure my seams from time to time just to check accuracy

  2. Brenda Hojonski - March 9, 2012

    I can relate to learning both the importance of cutting accurately while awake and 1/4″ seams. I have a quilt that will be my practice quilt on quilting techniques and used as a throw in my bedroom (where no one will see it) because it turned out a bit wonky. Glad I have extra fabric to make another someday. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  3. Aubrey Jacobs - March 9, 2012

    One thing that helps tremendously with accuracy is starching your fabric. I honestly don’t know how people do it that don’t use starch, especially with anything cut on the bias. I put all of my new quilting cotton in the bathtub with a tiny bit of detergent, soak for a bit, rinse, then dunk each piece in a bucket of undiluted liquid starch, wring out and hang to dry. Press these when they are about 95% dry, and you will have a perfectly flat, straight, stiff piece of material to work with. No matter how much you fuss with it then, it won’t shift or warp, which results in better accuracy. This is also much cheaper and easier than using tons of spray starch (and you can put a little liquid starch in a spray bottle for pressing touch-ups).

  4. Jessica - March 9, 2012

    My ah ha moment with 1/4″ seams came when sewing triangles. Then things really don’t match up!

  5. Stephanie - March 9, 2012

    I am a true believer in starching fabrics and using a 1/4 inch foot. I have used different machines, I check the needle position to the 1/4 foot and each machine is a bit different but not so much that it would make a noticeable difference. Loved your sharing and can’t wait to finish with part II.

  6. Jenna - March 12, 2012

    Thanks for your comments everyone! I like the idea of using starch. Is that liquid starch hard to find?
    My next project I’m testing has a triangle-pieced border.
    Jessica did you find anything that helped you with your triangles?

  7. Amanda - March 13, 2012

    Liquid starch is not that hard to find I just bought a jug of it for $2.80 at wal-mart. I have only used it in hand applique and not in piecing so far. Good luck on your next step, Jenna!

  8. Aubrey - March 13, 2012

    Girl, trust me, once you start using starch, you will wonder what you ever did without it! You can get Sta-Flo liquid starch at most any grocery store. I usually buy 3-4 jugs at a time. In a pinch, you can even make your own at home with corn starch.

  9. Nancy - March 16, 2012

    Don’t make a quilt with triangles too early in your quilting career. I made that mistake but at the time I didn’t realize it was a mistake. It was my second large quilt. I didn’t have enough experience to realize that it was a problem. Stick with squares and rectangles for a while and then ease into triangles gradually – potholders, place mats, wall hanging or table runners. Then maybe a large quilt. I just didn’t know all the pitfalls of triangles. All part of the learning process.