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Feb 8, 2013

Does Pressing Method Affect the Scant Seam & Block Size?

Feb 8, 2013
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splitting threads collage

This is a continuation of the Scant Rant: 1/4" Seam Tutorial from earlier this week.  Jess of the Elven Garden raised an excellent point in the comments.  From her experience, blocks were always a little off until she started pressing her seams open.  And since scant seams account for thread thickness and the fold, I thought I'd play Scooby Doo Detective.

Does it make a difference if you press your seams open or to the side in your final block measurements??  Ahh, well.  The geek in me could not resist....

After digging out my only ruler with eighths and sixteenths marked on it, I cut several rectangles as I recommended in the test for sewing a scant 1/4" seam.  This time I wanted to check how pressing the seams open would influence the block size.

Here is the photo of the block using the needle in it's default position and pressing my seam open.  (I normally always press to one side because I am impatient like that.)  Although this is hard to photograph, I think you can see that this block is more than 1/16" too short.  Doesn't sound like much, but if every block is off this much, it can add up.
block w. open seam default needle position

My next test was to sew the same block with the needle in it's adjusted position.  Now remember, I set this position by sewing my block and pressing to one side (explained here)....  It's pretty plain to see this block is too big by about 1/32" of an inch.
block w. open seam adjusted needle postition

And again, test #3, the same block sewn with the adjusted needle position and seam pressed to the side.  Again hard to photograph, but this block is more accurate to 2" x 2" than the photo above.
block with seam pressed to side with adjusted needle position

So who cares?  Why on earth am I showing you all of this?  After all, we are talking about 1/16" and 1/32" of an inch here.  (I think I did mention we were going to be splitting threads right.... ha ha!)

The bottom line.  It does make a small difference.  That can add up if you are sewing lots of blocks together in, for example, a postage stamp quilt.  Here's my recommendation: find your scant 1/4" needle position using the pressing method you use most.  Or if you're into superhero precision, determine your needle position for both.

As for me, I'm no superhero.  

One more note.  Kati pointed out that not all 1/4" presser feet have space to reposition your needle.  Make a mental note to check that when you are selecting one for your machine.

Janome quarter inch sewing machine foot  My Janome 1/4" foothas room to shift the needle to the right.










This Brother 1/4-Inch Quilting Footdoes not appear to have much wiggle room.

Browse for other 1/4" presser feet models here.

Thank you for your comments!  I hope learning a little about this stuff helps everyone improve their accuracy just a little bit.


Further Reading.
Part I:  Scant Rant: A 1/4" Seam Tutorial for Sewing Machines with Adjustable Needle Positions
Part III: Scant Rant: A 1/4" Seam Tutorial for Basic Sewing Machines Pin It

27 comments:

  1. Great article, and thanks for splitting threads with us. I have a question for you. You said you adjusted your needle. How? To the right? Left? What kind of machine do you have? I have an older Janome, and I didn't know one could adjust the needle when using the straight stitch.

    Signed, fellow nerd

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I shift my needle to the right. I sew on a Janome 4900 and there is a button which allows me to shift the needle position incrementally. The default position for me is 3.5. I move it all the way to 5.0 (for seams pressed to one side).

      Not all machines have the option to adjust the needle position - Part 3 of this post series??? :) I think so!

      Delete
  2. What a great couple of posts. I have to admit (hanging head in shame here) I've never done 'the test'. I now think it's on the agenda, especially as I have a snow day...no school. Wahoo!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Interesting...I press seams open 90% of the time and since I started that, my blocks look so much better (seams perfectly lined up, the correct size, etc). I have a Janome too and put the needle in position 4 usually, but for a scant quarter inch 4.3. What is the needle position you use?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I sew on a Janome 4900. The default position for me is 3.5. I move it all the way to 5.0 (for seams pressed to one side).

      Delete
  4. Thanks for doing thses posts! I always wondered, when I first starte quilting, which was the best way to press. Over the years I have decided that for me, I prefer pressing to one side. I like the "nesting" aspect, and I think it just makes your seams stronger (less tension on the seam when the fabric is pressed the same direction.) However, I also see the appeal of pressing open (less bulk overall, easier and faster in general.) I have never really though much about the affect of needle position, however, especially in relation to pressing. Amazing what you can learn! Thanks for doing the legwork and sharing your results. It has definitely given me some things to ponder on!

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  5. I can adjust the needle position on my machine (to the left and to the right). But I got the "quilting" card for my sewing machine (Huskvarna Quilt Designer II, several years old now), and it has a stitch set up to be a scant 1/4". I use that more often than not--often for other things as well!

    I used to have a Pfaff (from 1987)--that thing had a metric plate! Talk about it being impossible to sew a scant 1/4" seam--everything was difficult! Once I took it in for standard maintenance and they "did me a favor" and cleaned up all the tape I had marking measurements. WAAAAAAHHHHHH!

    I also press to the side--it make seams easier to fit together, and I to think it makes them stronger.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I appreciate these two posts. I actually need to do this test on my foot, because I don't know that it is accurate. I was also wondering how you possibly adjust the needle, when there's only that little hole in the middle of your foot. Seems nearly impossible.

    I like to press my seams to the side, as opposed to open too, so will have to see if that is affecting anything as well.

    Thanks again!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Next week I will post Part III of this little series on how to get the scant 1/4" if you cannot adjust your needle. stay tuned!

      Delete
  7. I was always told to press seams to one side because it created a stronger seam. We always make quilts to be used in my family not just hang on a wall. So I guess I will need to test both needle position and side seam pressing to get the most accurate pieces!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Ok I did the 1/4 seam test yesterday. I have a quilting foot that is supposed to do the 1/4 seam. I did all as instructed and it was under 2". I tried to move my need to fix and it was moved as far as possible to that side and still it was too small. This is why I had trouble with the January block. I am at a loss.....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmm. My first question is to find out what is the difference between your default position seam and the seam shifted all the way one direction? Can you measure the change? Is it 1/16"?

      Delete
  9. and I have a Janome also and bought the appropriate foot for that machine (just recently)...

    ReplyDelete
  10. I have the Brother 1/4" foot you picture here. I use the "toe" next to the guide (and not the guide itself) as a guide which gives me a nice scant 1/4" seam. Does that make sense? So if I run my fabric directly and evenly under the "toe" the seam is a scant seam.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I think it is just my machine Janome 423S...In the book it says "variable needle position" "when the straight stitch (patternA) is selected, you can move the needle drop position between the center and left by sliding the stitch width control." Like I said, I need to move it further right for the 1/4 inch and at the furthest point I am off. Annoying. This is why I am often ever so slightly off....

    ReplyDelete
  12. I really appreciate these tutorials.. I do so want to get my stitching to be perfection..and these really will help. I hope you will devote a special section of your blog so that we can get back to these tutorials when we really need to.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I just created the "Quilting 101" page as a gathering place for all of these tutorials. We're thinking along the same lines!

      Delete
  13. Why do you show the first two examples with the ruler as your measurement gauge, and the third example with your cutting mat as your measurement gauge? Did you check that the ruler lines and cutting mat lines are exactly the same, and/or measure with your ruler, but just remove it for the sake of photography? And for AnneMarie above, most machines move the needles in millimeter increments, and if you have a computerized machine, the display should show the needle position number, and it will change as you shift the needle. You can often save these settings in your machine's memory as your favorite and recall it upon need, OR you can save it as your new default and always start with your perfect scant 1/4" seam allowance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry if the last picture adds some confusion... I took pictures both with and without the ruler on my blocks (I wasn't sure if you'd be able to see with the ruler) and unfortunately, both the pics I took with the ruler of the last shot were didn't come out. I had to use the other shot since I didn't have time to reshoot before baby woke up.

      Now that you mention it, I do remember that my machine has the ability to save this to my preferred settings. I completely forgot! Thanks for mentioning it!

      Delete
  14. Thanks for this post. I set up my Baby Lock Sofia to sew a scant quarter inch. It wasn't easy. And this is a machine that comes with separate stitches for quilter's piecing and quilting! I have to use the basic sewing foot, not the quarter-inch foot with guide that I paid extra for. If I have to choose between too small and too big, I will always go for too big because you can always trim to size.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I have that brother foot pictured. There is not room to adjust the needle position AND its not a true 1/4" seam. It's the teensiest bit bigger, which has caused me problem when I am trying to join a block that was piecd with 2seam to a block that was priced with 3seams! They are the same sized blocks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I feel your pain! Try reading Part III of Scant Rant (for basic sewing machines) to help find your scant 1/4". I think this may help you! The link is at the very end of this post under "Further Reading".

      Delete
  16. Sorry, the blocks are NOT the same size

    ReplyDelete
  17. For anyone lamenting that they cannot make get their needle to move to get that scant 1/4" seam - there is more than one way to skin a cat. Maybe there is a marking on your regular foot that will give you the scant 1/4", or maybe you just cut everything a smidge bigger and square it up after sewing you seam (even if that seam is 5/16" instead of 7/32".

    Remember the point of the 1/4" seam isn't really a 1/4" seam but a perfectly size block.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I have that brother foot (it's a babylock, but they're the same), and I can move my needle over one click to get my scant 1/4" :)

    ReplyDelete
  19. ticks me off!! why do we even buy a 1/4 inch foot if it don't work! we have to make adjustments,and if you cant make them because of the machine you cant move the needle..oh boy who even came up with this scant thing!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Okay! So now I know its not always cuz I'm not good at cutting pieces :) I also have a Janome and plan to go play now. I never cared much for intricate piecing but only because my pieces and blocks always ended up just off a bit. Thank you!!!

    ReplyDelete

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