A reader asked me for tips on aligning seams when you’re sewing a bunch of blocks together. What I have learned in 25 years of making quilts is that if you don’t correct small mistakes at the beginning they become big mistakes by the end — meaning, if you’ve made a cutting mistake or a sewing mistake along the way, fix it before you proceed because it will cause bigger problems down the road.
Here are my quick tips for making things line up:
1. The more accurately you cut, the easier it will be to align seams.
2. Check the size of your blocks before you pin them together. If they are different sizes, either re-sew the small ones to the correct size or trim all of the blocks down to the size of the smallest.
3. Start pinning at the seam intersections, not at the end of the row. You can always trim the ends off but aligning at the intersections is what you’ll notice most in the finished quilt.
4. If you’ve pressed open your seams, insert the pin through the seam of both pieces to be sewn at exactly the point where the needle will hit — usually 1/4″ from the raw edge. With practice you’ll be able to eyeball that 1/4″. You needn’t sit there with a ruler but the idea is that you want to stabilize the points that need to match up.
5. Don’t remove the pins as you’re sewing until they are just about to go under the presser foot. I once sewed over a pin and the needle hit the pin and broke the needle. Luckily I was wearing glasses at the time but the end of the needle flew into my glasses. So I don’t advocate sewing over pins.
My last bit of advice on this is to not think of craftsmanship as an all or nothing proposition. My first quilt in 1987 had mediocre craftsmanship but but aim was to get a little better with each project. Most of us don’t use fine motor skills on a daily basis that’s any finer than keyboarding so it takes awhile to develop control over a rotary cutter and pins. Don’t get discouraged if your craftsmanship isn’t perfect, just aim for doing a little better over time.