How to sew a quarter-inch seam – perfectly, every time – in 5 steps (+ sale)

No matter what kind of quilter you may be—traditional, modern, art, country, beginner, expert, and every kind in between—there’s something we all need to master: the art of the ¼" seam. In their bestselling book The Simple Joys of Quilting, popular designers Mary Hickey and Joan Hanson share a foolproof method for getting a perfect ¼" seam every time you sew. There’s no need for a special presser foot, and you can complete their five easy steps below in less than 10 minutes!

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Conquering the ¼" Seam
Excerpt from The Simple Joys of Quilting by Joan Hanson and Mary Hickey

Mary Hickey and Joan HansonSewing an exact ¼" seam is a simple skill and the key to successful quiltmaking. A presser foot with the right-hand edge of the foot exactly ¼" from the needle makes sewing an exact ¼" seam much easier. Your hands can keep the fabric feeding through the machine along the edge of the presser foot. If your machine doesn’t have such a foot, you can do what many master quilters do—construct a little “fence” of masking tape that keeps the edge of the fabric exactly ¼" from the needle.

1. Place your ruler under your presser foot and slide it around until the needle is right above the ¼" line on the right-hand side of the ruler. Lower the needle until it sits right on that ¼" line. Fuss with the ruler until it’s perfectly straight where it overlaps the rest of the machine.

How to sew a quarter-inch seam 1

2. Make a thick guide to help you sew a perfect ¼". We like something that is thick enough to keep the fabric from jumping the fence and riding off on its own little adventure. Layer five strips of 4″- or 5″-long masking tape on your cutting mat, one piece right on top of the other. You now have a piece of slightly chubby masking tape.

3. Look at the area to the right of the ruler, which is still under your needle and presser foot. If the feed dogs of your machine extend out to the right of the presser foot, use a pencil to draw a little notch on the masking-tape fence. Draw the notch about the same size as the exposed feed dogs. Use paper scissors to cut away the notch area.

4. Using the ruler as a guide, lay the stacked masking tape on the bed of the sewing machine so that most of the masking tape is aligned with the right-hand side of the ruler.

How to sew a quarter-inch seam 2

5. Set the stitch-length dial on your sewing machine to about 12 stitches per inch (written as 2.5 on many machines). The guide is the portion of the tape without the notch. Because the tape is thick, it is easy for the fabric to stay on track.

Whether you’re at the beginning of your quiltmaking journey or you’d like to brush up on the basics, you’ll find loads of tested techniques for every step of the quiltmaking process in our sale books this week. Take a look!

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What basic quiltmaking techniques have you struggled to master? Share your story in the comments!

16 Comments (leave a comment)

  • Photo mount tape is thick and inexpensive and works well as a guide. Keep in mind that anything attached will slightly interfere with sewing seams such as down the center of a square to make half square triangles or paper piecing, etc.

    —Corky on January 13, 2014
  • I am struggling with free motion machine quilting. I’ve only made several quilts, and the thought of ruining a quilt top by messing up the quilting keeps me from trying free motion.

    —Karen Cohn on January 13, 2014
  • Mastering the 1/4 inch seam allowance really improved my piecing. I still wander off the mark sometimes when doing curved piecing. Practice makes perfect; so I’ll just have to make another quilt with curved piecing. Oh the sacrifices we have to make for our craft!

    —Elizabeth P. on January 13, 2014
  • Finally made 4 mitered corners using a border print. Even lined up the stripe!

    —Mary Douglass on January 13, 2014
  • For me, it’s Foundation Piecing! I know I can do it, because I took a class and it was much simpler than I thought it would be! Yet, get me behind my sewing machine at home and I just can’t find the confidence to do it on my own.

    —Kayt Deans on January 13, 2014
  • Binding (not the mitered corners) I have trouble with the ending. Getting the two edges just right.

    —carol on January 13, 2014
  • What about the SCANT 1/4 inch seam and when to use them

    —Linda Cejnar on January 13, 2014
  • Cutting the side points on: [/\]. I have the EZ rulers, Bonnie Hunter uses and my only problem is: my hands shake and messes up the cutting. I will not quit, I will prevail, and eventually, I’ll get it done without a mishap. I have a quarter inch guide on all my machines, so getting a perfect 1/4 inch seam has never been a problem for me.

    Keep smiling,

    Lynnita Shipman on January 14, 2014
  • I use the crafting foam sheet, cut to size, to use as guide perfect thickness, use double sided scotch tape to hold it in place never came off.

    —wanda young on January 14, 2014
  • I’ve used the 1/4″ guide on the sewing machine, just purchased the "scant 1/4″ foot, and it still depends on the fabric and how much bulk, but I’m fine working that out. My big issue right now is BINDING–joining the ends–there must be a better way.

    —Carol on January 15, 2014
  • I have used the "moleskin" type tape with the adhesive on the back. You can find it in the drug store where you get the foot powder, corn pads, insoles, etc

    —Elizabeth Milner on January 17, 2014
  • BINDING (the two tails) I NEVER seem to get it right, no matter how many times I am shown and no matter how many videos I watch! Sigh….

    —Sue Cleek on January 20, 2014
  • My biggest problem is free motion quilting. I think the problem is that I need to take the time to practice more to gain confidence but I’m not sure. I’ve taken classes but my stitching looks jumpy, not smooth and flowing.

    —Louise Buker on April 18, 2014
  • For bindings, check out Sharon Schamber’s YouTube instructions (Binding the Angel). I put my computer near my machine and went right along with her. Great method! Use glue sparingly! Love the no pins, no clips way. I’m a new quilter. My binding came out great!

    —Gail McCarthy on March 14, 2015
  • This struggle we have all had is my sore spot. I think it is incumbent on machine manufacturers to begin marking a clear 1/4″ line on the machine body. Not only that, but new throat plates should be made available for older machines. I couldn’t encourage quilters enough to spend the $25 for a workable 1/4″ foot. They are invaluable. Any sticky thing attached to your machine will either move or get in the way.

    —Patricia Hersl on August 11, 2015
  • I like the idea of a seam guide to get accurate 1/4″ seams. I have a 1/4″ foot and an even feed foot. I prefer to sew with the even feed foot, I just get better results. But then my seam allowances suffer. I would pay dearly for a foot that would do both

    —Claudia Tull on February 4, 2016

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