Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Farm Girl Vintage Quilt - Aiming for Accuracy

Today I'm talking a bit about my progress with the Farm Girl Vintage Quilt. The quilt is from this book by Lori Holt.

There is a quilt-along in progress which Lori hosts from her blog A Bee in my Bonnet
We are working systematically through the book making 2 blocks a week, either the 12" size or the 6" according to your preference. The Instagram hashtags are #farmgirlfridays and #farmgirlvintage.

I chose to join the quilt along and make the 6" blocks for one reason. I have until now been really bad at accuracy when working on a small scale like this! I wasn't sure at the start that it was my kind of quilt. I joined purely to improve my skills. It's worked and I just love the quilt now! A few years ago I started the Farmers Wife Sampler Quilt from the book by Laurie Aaron Hird. I made a few blocks, was disappointed by my lack of accuracy and they now sit languishing in a cupboard. I'm getting lots of practice at small scale at the moment. I'm also making the My Small World quilt by Jen Kingwell and I'm going to join the 1930s Farmers Wife QAL posted by VeryKerryBerry (and hopefully finish my original Farmers Wife quilt at the same time!)

Some of the pieces in these blocks are really small. And I mean REALLY SMALL! 
You cut plenty of 1" squares.

So what have I done to improve my accuracy? 
Here are a few of the things that have worked for me:

1. Starch your fabrics before you begin.
You need to starch everything. If some fabrics are starched and others are not you will get in a mess. 
Also make sure you starch before you cut. Some fabrics shrink a little when starched. I cut a strip of fabric 1/4" wider than I need for the largest piece in the block and starch it. Leave a while to impregnate and then press it dry. You will be using the fabrics in other blocks so I just store the unused starched pieces in a box ready to use later.
For now I use regular spray starch from the supermarket. I don't really like using aerosols and I'm not prepared to pay the price for Best Press so I've been experimenting with making my own from cornflour, but the recipe still needs a little work. 

2. Shorten the stitch length on your sewing machine slightly.
Just a little makes a big difference. The normal setting I use on my Bernina is 2.4. For 6" detailed blocks I reduce it to 2.0, for easier ones I just go down to 2.2.

3. Use leaders and enders
These are small scraps of fabric that you sew before you start sewing the block seam and then again when you've finished. It means you never start a seam with the two ends of the thread dangling free. You don't risk the possibility of the machine "chewing" the first couple of stitches, which in turn will distort the block.
I have a box of 1 1/2" scrap squares beside me and randomly sew 2 together at the start and whenever I would normally cut the thread. 

I remember the sewing room at school always had the machines ready threaded with a piece of muslin under each foot with a few stitches sewn. I always wondered why! Now my machine always has one too. The sewn pieces will eventually become a postage stamp quilt for charity.

4. Check you are sewing exactly 1/4" seam
I know this sounds obvious, but it needs to be EXACT. ALL the time.
I really struggled with this for a long time.
My 1/4" was precise enough for large scale blocks, but not for these (and the dreaded Farmers Wife Sampler!) The normal methods of placing marker tape on the machine bed etc. just didn't work well enough for me. In the end I drew the 1/4" line on the blocks with a pencil, until I could recognise exactly where it was. I only needed to do it for a few blocks. I trained myself not to look too much at the pencil line, but at the foot and it worked!

5. Press your seams open.
This is something I had started doing for a while on all my quilts and it really helps on these blocks, where there are a lot of intersecting seams.
I gently finger press whenever possible. Press is the key word. Don't rub your fingers back and forth. Once the block progresses and seams intersect I use a dry iron, minimally, saving a good press until the block is complete.

6. Pin mindfully
I used to pin too much. I used to pin through the seams to make them match up. I think those pins did as much harm as they did good. They often distorted the seam line.
If no seams need matching I no longer pin on seams as short as these.
Where seams need matching I use this approach. Push a pin vertically into the seams of the 2 layers, checking back and front that they are perfectly aligned. Hold that pin vertical from top to bottom.
Place a second pin to the left just outside the seam allowance, so it is going through just 2 layers (the fewer layers it goes through the less distortion). Place a third pin to the right, just outside the seam allowance.

Remove the upright pin before placing the seam under your machine.
Its also worth investing in some good quality pins that aren't too heavy for the job on hand.

7. Trim up as you go.
Lori tells you at every stage what size the finished segment should be. Measure as you go and trim off even the tiniest bit that might be wonky.

8. Unpick a puckered seam
Now, I might be the only idiot who, when noticing a little pucker used to say, "Oh it'll press out at the end"
Trust me, it won't! If there's a pucker halfway through, it'll still be there at the end, and there will probably be a lot more problems along the way! That's what the unpicker tool is for right?!

These few techniques have really improved the accuracy of my work. It's still not perfect but I'm happy with it.
I post photos regularly on Instagram (link at the top of the right hand side bar), and often have fun styling them according to the block title.
Here are a few of my favourites.

Peas and Carrots 
Pie Cherries
Autumn Star and Baby Chick

Chicken Foot and Canning Season

Butter Churn and Baking Day

I hope these tips help anyone who is also struggling with accuracy when working small scale.
I'm looking forward to showing you my progress on the My Small World quilt soon!

And now it's definitely time to put the kettle on!

Kettle's On!


  1. I have been enjoying seeing your blocks as you share them on instagram. Thanks for sharing all these great tips for piecing those tiny blocks!

  2. Your blocks look great and your hints are very helpful!

  3. I can't imagine 1" blocks. You are doing an amazing job on the blocks. Great tips Many thanks!

  4. Visiting from Let's Bee Social. Great tips for accuracy. I've been working on improving mine lately also. The tip about shortening the stitch length is great. Seam bulk is my largest problem. I'll have to try presssing the seams open. Your blocks look fantastic!

  5. This is a gorgeous quilt and so worth being accurate on the blocks! All of your tips are great! Tips I need to try and do more of!

  6. Love these blocks and the styling. Thanks for sharing your tips - always good to know what works for other quilters.

  7. Great tips, Julie. You can tell you gave been following them cos your blocks look perfect! Not able to join in on this one but a couple of the blocks look fun to make; the mixing bowl and kettle in particular. Fantastic post, thank you :)

  8. All the blocks look fabulous! It will be such a great quilt :-)

  9. Wonderful tips and they are really paying off for you! Your photos are also fabulous and I love the staging. So happy to have found you!


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