Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bee blocks and 1/4" seams

retro flowers 1

After a much needed month-off (and a reprieve to turn in my December blocks late), I finished my February bee blocks for the do.good stitches love circle this past weekend.  Ara Jane picked the fun Retro Flowers pattern (which Christina kindly donated for us to use for this quilt).  Ara Jane asked for bright blocks in warm colors, hopefully these fit the bill!  I wasn't too intimidated by the curves in this block after sewing two drunkard's path quilts, but actually matching the seams correctly was somehow tricker than I expected (and I didn't get it perfect, as you can see on my first block below).  I still enjoyed the block and am happy with how they turned out, though!

retro flowers 2

One thing that I have definitely been working on with my quilting over the past year has been getting a more reliable 1/4" seam, which if you make precisely quilted blocks you will know is the key to getting things to match up well and turn out the right size.  I definitely still have room for improvement but I thought that I would share a few tips including one issue that came up specifically with this block.

quarter inch foot

Earlier this year I bought this quarter inch foot (above) for my brother sewing machine.  It was really cheap and definitely helped make it easier to line up the quarter inch seam with the side, but I found that it wasn't as precise as I had hoped... and it drives me kind of crazy that you have to use the center needle setting or your needle will hit the foot, and the default for my machine is a different position, so if I leave this foot on my machine, I will inevitable forget to change the stitch setting when I turn the machine on and mess up my needle.  One thing that I have found that I really like to use this foot for is sewing curves.  I think mostly because it helps me keep close to a 1/4" seam, but doesn't have too large a foot area and create puckers or anything.

quarter inch setting

I know that lots of folks have a 1/4" foot with a metal guard on the side to make it more exact where the fabric is supposed to line up, and maybe someday I will get one of those.  In the meantime, I have been using a trick which I picked up at the sewing summit.  My machine has a ton of stitches, most of which I never use, and I never understood why there were special stitches for piecing and quilting.  In one of the classes at the sewing summit they set up the machines using one of the piecing settings and let us know that that positioned the needle 1/4" in from the edge of the regular foot.  Wow!  I have been using this setting ever since and have found it to be more reliable for getting a 1/4" seam than my special 1/4" foot.  This is setting #37 on my machine, and at least if you have a brother or a babylock you probably have a similar setting.  This may be old news to folks but I thought I would share in case anyone else has been in the dark on this one!  (and I still haven't figured out what the special "quilting" stitches are and how they are different from regular stitches - if you know, please do share).

machine stitches

Actually the hardest seams for me to sew in this block were the final ones where you join the four quarters of the block together, because the pieces you are sewing are each 1/2" wide to the next seam, which at least for me meant that when I sewed a 1/4" seam with the regular needle position, my foot was getting pushed out of place (towards the fabric edge, making a smaller seam allowance), by the thicker fabric from the previously sewn seam.  Maybe if I had a nicer machine this wouldn't have happened, and I could have used a walking foot but that seemed like a pain.  In the end I sewed these seams with my needle all the way to the left position (position 00 on my machine) which meant only less than 1/4" of my foot was on the fabric to the left of the needle and I just did my best to keep a 1/4" seam, which wasn't perfect.  Has anyone else had this problem when sewing patchwork where the finished width is 1/4" or less, and if so, I'd love to hear if you came up with a better solution!


  1. oh my goodness, you just perfectly described all the same problems i had when making this block! you could probably see on my block how i also had a hard time matching up my seams. the perfectionist in me is bothered by my mistakes, but the lazy person in me doesn't really have time to care. and ultimately i embrace these little "problems" since they show that an actual human being made it. so yay! i love your blocks, the colors are perfect, and can't wait to put this quilt together.

    also, i had no idea about the #37 setting on my brother. i might give this a try (though it's going to be hard for me to let go of my 1/4" foot to do so)!

  2. Thanks for this, sometimes I think that I am the only one who has problems with the 1/4" seams. I have invested in a 1/4" foot which has a metal guard, and it is helping but it isn't ideal for every situation so I am looking forward to seeing the replies that you get!

    Love your bee blocks!

  3. Love these blocks! I am thinking of doing a wall quilt with this one.

    I hear you about the 1/4 inch seams. I have a foot with a metal guard but it is actually a bit generous, so slightly more than 1/4". I can see this being a big issue in group quilts! Let me know if you find a definitive solution!

  4. I have a babylock Elizabeth, and have a similar setting on my machine. It's #21 on mine. hehe By the way, the default for my machine is a left needle position but I was able to change it to default to a center needle position, maybe you can too???

  5. Love those retro flower blocks! I've got to make some of those :)

    I wish my machine had that! Although with the presser foot I have and a careful eye I can usually get pretty darn close to 1/4 most of the time!

  6. Yes, I can't tell you how many times I resewed the seams in my first block. I've cut the fabrics for my second block, but haven't gotten them sewn together yet. Maybe I'll dig around and see if I have such a foot for my machine. I'm sure it would make it easier!

  7. Love those blocks!! I really need to play with my machine because I don't think my seams are right, thanks for the tips!

  8. Thanks for the tip. My foot with the metal guard is slightly off so I end up adjusting anyway... drives me nuts. I'll have to check out that stitch on my machine and see how it works.

  9. I have a foot with a metal guard and it drives me nuts! It's ok piecing two fabric pieces together but put a seam in there and it goes all over the place. I always end up pissed off and then spend ages trying to adjust my needle position and a regular foot to the same seam width. However it does have a presser foot pressure adjustment knob with is excellent for sewing over thicker seams and you can lock the foot into a horizontal position too. Maybe your machine might have something similar?

  10. I have a Brother XR7700, and I always have the same problem, but I've never tried the piecing stitch. I'll try it tonight! Per Heather's suggestion above, I tried the method here to change the default needle position, but it didn't work on my machine. Maybe it will work on yours!


  11. I had a Brother for over a year before I stumbled across that feature. Lesson learned, read the manual! I thought that worked a million times better than the little 1/4" foot.

  12. I am so glad I read your post before I started my blocks this month! I just finished them, and they look a lot like yours-- in that my first block didn't match up perfectly (though it's pretty close), and my second was better, but I *really* needed to watch those scant quarter inch seams! I have a lot of appreciation for all the curves you sewed in your drunkards path quilts!!

  13. I'm looking at your machine... I like what I can see of it. My old Viking gave up the ghost the other night so I am researching new machines - what kind is yours? Are you happy with it? What is your most favorite and least favorite thing about it. Thanks for your help!

    1. So I actually have a pretty cheap brother machine (cost about $150) that I got on amazon, it works pretty well but is definitely not a fancy machine. I am actually hoping to get something nicer myself in the next year or two - the biggest reason being that it has a really tiny throat space, which makes it hard to quilt with. Good luck finding a machine!

  14. I was looking for an inspiration because I´m planning a yellow-orange-pink-white summerquilt.
    And I found your blog with all these beautful quilts and tutorials, which are helping me a lot!
    Thank you very much

  15. I was looking for an inspiration because I´m planning a summerquilt with white, yellow, orange and pink.
    And now I´ve got that much ideas from your blog!
    Thank you very much!

  16. I hear you about the foot/needle position. I have the same problem and now drop the foot off when I turn the machine off - it reminds me to reposition the needle when I turn the machine back on.


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