One of the first things you need to learn when you’re new to quilting is how to sew consistent ¼” seams. This is important because it helps you create blocks that all turn out the same size with corners that line up perfectly.
When your seams are inconsistent, you might end up with one block that is 12 inches and another that is only 11.5 inches simply because you didn’t pay close enough attention to your seam allowance while sewing. If that happens, you’ll have to spend extra time squaring up your blocks so they are all the same size. Depending on the quilt pattern you’re using, that could be a big deal — your entire pattern could look distorted.
How to Check for ¼” Seams
Quilts are typically sewn with a ¼” seam allowance. You can follow the ¼” line on your stitch plate, but many quilters find that a ¼” quilting foot makes it easier to stay consistent and sew faster. If you don’t have this specialty foot, it's included in Love Sew’s Ultimate 32pc Presser Foot Set.
To check your seam allowance, sew a straight line and then use a ruler to measure from the edge of your fabric to your stitch line. If it comes out to exactly ¼” inch, you’re good to sew. If it’s not right, adjust your needle position or place a new mark to follow on your sewing machine. Many people just use a piece of tape for that.
What Does Scant ¼” Mean?
Some quilt patterns tell you to use a “scant ¼” seam.” This is not quite the same thing as a ¼” seam. Instead, a scant ¼” seam is slightly narrower. I’m talking a tiny amount…
The reason for scant ¼” seams is that you lose a tiny bit of fabric on the fold when you press your seams. This happens whether you are pressing seams open or to one side. The scant ¼” seam makes up for that.
Can I Use Any Seam Allowance As Long As I’m Consistent?
Yes and no! It really depends on your quilt pattern. It’s more important to use scant ¼” seams on quilt blocks that have a lot of intricate pieces because a lot of pressing is involved, and you’ll get the little seam humps. With simple blocks, you won’t notice the difference as much and consistency is more important then.
Getting quilt blocks to lay flat and measure perfectly is both a science and an art. It becomes easier when you learn to master ¼” seams and the fluid nature of the scant ¼” seam allowance. If you’ve been quilting for a while, I’m sure you understand the struggle.