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Getting that perfect 1/4" Seam

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

One of the most critical parts of block building - and ultimately quilt making - is having an accurate 1/4” seam. The 1/4” seam allowance is standard in quilting and if it’s off even a little, the overall measurement of the block can be inaccurate and your pieces may not line up correctly. This is how you can dial in your machine to be sure that all your seams are right.

Some machines come with a specific 1/4” foot. If your machine is labeled as a “Sewing and Quilting” model, the 1/4” foot is usually included with the package. If you don’t have one, you can look up the model of your machine and order a 1/4” foot. Some come with a guide on the edge and some are flat.

Grab some scrap fabric, at least 1” long.

***This demo is done on a Brother sewing machine. Please refer to your sewing machine manual for your particular model machine.***

When you turn your machine on, it defaults to a standard setting. There is a panel on the right hand side that has stitch diagrams and numbers on top of each one. The 00 is the stitch pattern number.

Without a 1/4” foot:

Use the buttons below the stitch number to change the stitch pattern. The button on the far left will be the first number and the button on the right will set the second number.
The 2.5 number is the stitch length. We won’t mess with that right now.

When I choose stitch pattern #2, the needle position automatically changes.
See the little “J” above the 0 on the machine display? That is the recommended foot for this stitch pattern.
It’s hard to see on this photo, but there’s a little “J” on the top of the foot.
This is key when you are setting up the needle position.

Look on the stitch pattern panel on your machine.
One or more of the patterns will have a “P” . This stands for “Piecing”

On my model, the stitch I will choose is #46. See how the needle position changes to 5.5?

Now - this is the key part - the needle position is a general standard for aligning the fabric
The “P” means that it will stitch 1/4” from the edge of the foot.

Don’t use the markings on the machine to guide your fabric, use the right edge of the presser foot

Stitch a straight seam from one edge of your scrap fabric to the end. Cut the threads and get out a ruler.
Place the edge of the ruler directly on the seam and check where it is in relation to the edge of the fabric. Here, using the machine setting without any changes, it’s a scosche more than 1/4”.

(Yes, schosche is a technical term.)

Let’s adjust the needle position and see if we can get a better result. Using the needle position button, move it one press to the right. Instead of 5.5, it’s now set at 6.

Much better! I now know that on Machine setting #46 a needle position of 6 will give me an accurate 1/4" seam.

Note to self: Better write this down because I will forget when I set up the next time.

What if I have a 1/4” foot? Does it automatically stitch at 1/4” inch?
I’m glad you asked.

Nope. Still have to check it.

With a 1/4” foot:

The number #46 stitch is set up for the “J” foot. The foot has a very large opening for the needle to go through, so you have a wider selection of needle positions. Quarter-inch feet have a tiny hole for the needle to go through so if you were to use the 1/4” foot with this setting the needle will hit the foot, break or bend, and cause a startle reaction with the operator. Ask me how I know…..

You’ll want to start with the needle in the center so it will pass through the 1/4” foot. On this model machine, it is stitch pattern #02. The needle position is at 3.5 and goes right through the middle of the foot.

Line your fabric up with the right edge of the 1/4" foot and stitch your seam.

There's that schosche again....
Not bad, but I think it could be better.

Let's move the needle one press to the right
and stitch it at needle position 4.

Spot on! This little adjustment will make a big difference!

So, when using the 1/4” foot, I know to use the #02 stitch setting and a needle position of 4.

I hope this helps you achieve your piecing goals. It only takes a few minutes and will make such a difference in the way that your blocks turn out!

Joy and 'Piece',


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