Quilting Basics ~ Matching Seams & Quick Piecing Techniques

on April 14 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips, Sewing Tutorials + Patterns | by | with 141 Comments

Jacquie from Tallgrass Prairie Studios is back for part three of her Quilting Basics series! Part one covered preparing and cutting your fabric, and part two focused on the quarter inch seam and pressing techniques. Be sure to visit Jacquie at Tallgrass Prairie Studios for her latest quilts, and learn more about Jacquie in her Sew,Mama,Sew! Board Member intro.

Today Jacquie teaches us all about Matching Seams and Quick Piecing Techniques:

A Good Match!
You’ve prepped your fabric, your pieces are cut and you’re piecing away. You have your units sewn and now it’s time to start putting things together. In most quilts you’re probably going to have to join units and match some seams. It’s not as difficult as it looks to achieve.

How you join units will depend on how you decide to press your seams. I’m going to demonstrate methods for both. As you gain experience with joining units you may be able forget the pins. I tend to use a pin or two, especially if I want a perfect match. That said, try not to focus on perfection, it can be paralyzing in quilting. A smidge off here and there won’t affect the beauty or utility of your quilt. A very experienced quilter gave me some wonderful advice about perfection. She told me to “get my nose out of my quilt.” Stand back and look at your work. You’ll be surprised how small imperfections disappear and the beauty emerges. (I’m trying to let go of my perfectionist tendencies.)

Joining With Side Pressed Seams
If you press your seams to the side, when you join units at seams you’ll want the seams laying in opposite directions so you can nest the seams together. Pressing to the side creates a tiny ridge. Nesting seams takes advantage of those ridges by butting them against each other. Opposing seams will also help distribute the bulk of the seam.

With both methods I pin the side of the seam allowance that the needle will reach last. This keeps the intersection from shifting, allows me to sew up to the center of the seam, remove the pin, and continue sewing. DO NOT sew over pins. You could damage your machine, dull your needle, or hurt yourself. Again, I know from experience!

If you press to one side, you will need to be aware of which direction you are pressing your seams as you assemble your quilt so that nesting is possible. Most quilt patterns will give you instructions for which direction to press.

Joining With Seams Pressed Open
If you press your seams open, joining is a little different. You won’t have ridges to butt against each other. When matching seams that have been pressed open, align them on top of each other, right sides together.

Some quilters stab a pin through the center of the seam in the top piece and through to the bottom piece to align. I simply wiggle them together with my fingers.

Again I pin on the side that the needle will reach last. I find that’s enough to keep my seams aligned and get accurate matches. You may want to pin more or less than I do.

When I’m joining sections of a quilt that contain multiple seams to match, I usually pin more. I pin at each seam match and then again halfway between seam intersections. You will find your own way to keep your edges aligned and give you accurate seam matching.

Here’s what the matched units look like either with seams pressed open or seams pressed to the side.

Quick Piecing

There are a few techniques I’d like to share that will speed up your piecing. These two techniques can be used in many quilt patterns. The first is strip piecing.

Strip Piecing
Strip piecing involves joining two or more strips of fabric and then cutting smaller units from those joined strips. The center sections of the ‘Snippets’ quilt pictured below were strip pieced using 22” long 1” wide strips.

When strip piecing do your best to keep your edges aligned and use that scant ΒΌ” seam. Pin if you need to.

One problem that sometimes occurs when sewing strips is that multiple strips sewn together will tend to curve and form an arc and not lay flat. There are a couple of ways to prevent this. If you have many strips to join, sew them in pairs first, press your seams then join those units and continue joining units until you have all the strip sets joined. I’ve also found when joining multiple strips, sewing from the top down on the first set, and then sewing from the bottom up on the second set will help keep the strip set straight and flat.

When your strips are joined you can line up the bottom edge with a horizontal line on your cutting mat and sub-cut units whatever size you need. Look at all the units that were made from one strip set made up of two joined strips.

Chain Piecing
Another method that you can use to speed up your piecing is chain piecing. The pairs of squares below are candidates for chain piecing.

Chain piecing involves stitching similar units one after the other without clipping the threads between the units.

I stack my units to be chain pieced with the edge to be sewn to the right. I lay them beside my machine so I can pick them up and move them to the machine in an orderly manner. This helps make sure that I’m sewing the correct side.

Stitch the first unit as usual and stop with your needle down at the end of the unit. Without lifting the presser foot feed the second unit under the presser foot without clipping the threads. Continue feeding and sewing all of your units. Clip your final threads and the units will be connected in a long chain that you can carry over to your ironing board. Clip the thread between the units and press.

Chain piecing saves time and thread and can also help you keep units in the correct sewing order. To save even more time you can chain piece your strip sets. You’ll have a quilt in no time!

Part 4, coming up next week: Maintaining Your Momentum

Comment in any post this week for your chance to win one of these great prizes:

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141 Responses to Quilting Basics ~ Matching Seams & Quick Piecing Techniques

  1. Lyndsay says:

    Great post. Thank you!

  2. Rose says:

    Great tute, I always enjoy looking at your quilts. Some really good advice about being a perfectionist too!

  3. Melissa says:

    Another fabulous tutorial. Thanks for all the great tips!

  4. Annabel says:

    This is wonderful- I’ve been learning quilting by trial and error and this will help me to reduce the ‘error’ part!

  5. karen L says:

    Thanks – love the tip about sewing bottom up and top down to keep things from curling.

  6. Great tute!

  7. Lisa H. says:

    I’m so happy to see these tutorials. I pick up tips in every one!

  8. Joy says:

    Hi All –
    I am newbie, I am really passionate about sewing, and now that I am Mom of 2, I want to sew lot of things – clothes and quilting..and other home projects. Can u please suggest a good sewing machine..I dont want to spend too much money or dont want to buy a beginnner machine either, as I am sure I wont be a beginner for a long time.

    please advice.

  9. Mel says:

    These tutorials are just want I need to get me motivated to start quilting! thanks again!!

  10. Ann says:

    These tips are so helpful. Thanks.

  11. Kimberly says:

    Thank for this tutorial. It refreshed my memory. I’ve only completed one quilt and it was in a class. And I’m happy to see other people that leave their seams “open.” πŸ™‚

  12. Krista says:

    Thanks. Wish I had read this BEFORE I made my new wave quilt. LOL,live and learn I guess. Suppose I better make another one the right way =).

  13. Cristi says:

    I’ve never heard of chain piecing, love it! My only (probably really stupid) question is: does that mean you don’t back stitch? I suppose it doesn’t matter if they’ll be made into strips…?

  14. Linda says:

    I like reading this and reviewing techniques. Thank you!

  15. A says:

    This is a question from someone who has never made a quilt, but will soon try: What does it mean to nestle the seam? I sew clothing for my children, so I understand the concept of matching seams, but is that any different? Also, I always lock my seams when constructing garments. Why is it that you wouldn’t do the same for quilt seams? I understand it would take much longer, but wouldn’t it strengthen the seams?

  16. angelina says:

    brilliant tute: thanks guys

  17. ValH says:

    I’m definitely ok with imperfections, they have character! (But I’ll use your tips anyway!)

  18. Marcia W. says:

    Thank you for the good tutorial.

  19. Brenna says:

    I was just talking about this very topic with a coworker today! Now I have a pic tutorial!! Thank you! Great post.

  20. Diane says:

    Thanks for the great tips!

  21. DebbieB says:

    Thanks for all of the help.

  22. Kelli says:

    One reason I love this month is it helps people realize that everyone else is going through the same things. Once in scrapbooking someone told me that your work should look like you, and since I’m not perfect I don’t worry if my pages are perfect…when I came over to quilting, I kept the same mantra. While I want my quilts to look really great, I don’t worry about each little individual seam being perfect–as long as I’m making progress, enjoying myself and it looks good, I’m happy!

  23. Angela says:

    Thanks for the handy tips.

  24. Carol says:

    I have quilted a long time and never have I seen this discussed so well. Getting seams to match is a big part of a good quilt.

  25. Aparna Mulgund says:

    I have never tried the open seams, I always done the side pressed seams. This is great information.Thanks.

  26. Fawn says:

    This was so straight-forward! Thanks so much. I hadn’t heard of chain-piecing before. What a great technique. Appreciate the daily posts this month πŸ™‚ You guys rock!

  27. amandah says:

    I am definetly going to be using the open seams on my next project. I love how flat the block lays (or is it lies? )

  28. Barb B says:

    I am beginning to be a pinner. I used to just wing it but I find my quilt blocks match better if i pin. Thanks for the great tutotial.

  29. Elaine says:

    This is a great post – I love chain piecing!

  30. Char says:

    Great tutorial- I love all the little tips tucked inside these directions. I find the sewing strips tips most helpful! Now mine won’t be all curvy πŸ™‚

  31. Briana Reigel says:

    thanks for the tips

  32. Christina says:

    Thanks so much for this! I always struggle to get my seams to match up!

  33. Fran says:

    Great refresher tutorial !
    I am reminded to try pressing seams open…
    thanks !

  34. Melanie says:

    some great tips! thanks!

  35. Julia says:

    Thank you for this! As a newbie I need all the help I can get.

  36. Ethne says:

    I love this method – however I stitched up one charm pack with the intention of doing another to make a quilt centre but last night was contemplating unpicking the lot to do something differient with them – but what?

  37. mollie says:

    I agree with Mary Lou… it’s the straight line that gets me!!

    Thanks for the great tutorial. I visit your blog often!

  38. Claudia says:

    Chainpiecing – that’s it!
    Kind regards from imperfect Claudia

  39. Aniza says:

    thanks for the tute. I’m glad to say that I have been doing the correct way well at least it poses the least problem in piecing.

  40. Dennis says:

    Thank you for the great tips. It helped someone telling me not to get too perfect. That has been a problem for me. I have taken so many things apart because the points and joints didn’t come out perfect. This info will help me to match seams and squares.

  41. This post is beyond awesome. I am always wondering what to do and what not to do so I will follow some of these tips.

  42. Shruti says:

    This was very useful… πŸ™‚ Thanks a lot

  43. mab says:

    I hate it when my squares don’t match up! Thanks for the tips on how to help that out.

  44. Lee says:

    great advice for any level of quilter

  45. Erica says:

    yeah, i stink at matching seams. luckily i don’t get too worried about it.

  46. Chacoy says:

    this is the first i have heard of chain stitching and will definately be using it!

  47. Kimberly says:

    Thank you, Jacquie!

  48. sharon says:

    Great tutorial! Thanks Sharonj.

  49. Julia says:

    Yeah. I should totally read this!! My poor seams.

  50. Melissa says:

    I wish I was HALF as skilled as you are, Jacquie!! I love your work, and really appreciate you sharing your experiences and expertise with us. I’ve learned a lot already, and share these techniques with other newbie/self-taught quilters and sew-ers I know.

  51. Erin says:

    Thanks for this — it’s very helpful!

  52. Rose L says:

    Chain piecing rocks. πŸ™‚

  53. alisha says:

    Great tips! I’m going to give chain piecing a try. Not sure that I get the strip piecing, but maybe once I’m sitting at my machine it will click.

  54. Sheetal says:

    chain piecing rocks!

  55. Beth says:

    As a new quilter these tips have been outstanding! Thanks!

  56. Ramona says:

    I love chain piecing. It makes everything go so much faster.

  57. DebbieKL says:

    Great tips – thanks!

  58. Nezabudkina says:

    This tip about chain piecing is very helpful! I am sure to try it out on my new quilt. Thanks! πŸ™‚

  59. Katrina H says:

    do you shorten your stitch when you chain piece?

  60. Wendy D. P. says:

    Thank you – this is so helpful!

  61. Cristi says:

    Just starting so this is VERY helpful!

  62. San says:

    Love the great advice, I got to get quilting again, it looks like so much fun!

  63. Cathy A says:

    I like chain piecing, too! I even do it with my regular sewing when I can to save time and thread.

  64. becky says:

    this is wonderful! thanks for sharing you techniques. I love to do quick piecing and sewing like this.

    * the feed dogs grab that bottom fabric and pull it a bit, if you put the seams facing down on the bottom then they will be pulled up and bit and your seams will be perfectly nesled.


  65. Christine says:

    Thanks for the tutorial.

  66. I know for me this is a great reminder of what needs to be done to make matching seams.

  67. Katie says:

    I use a foot that has a little ledge at 1/4″. With that it’s way easier to keep consistent all the way.

  68. Amy says:

    Thanks for the tips! I’m already a firm believer in chain piecing. πŸ˜€ It makes it go alot faster!

  69. SofiAlgarvia says:

    I must try the seams pressed open! Thanks for the tips, they are very useful.

  70. Margaret says:

    Great tips – really liked the one about sewing long strips in one direction and then going the other direction for the next one! Thanks

  71. Susan says:

    I’ve pieced one quilt top in my whole life, and a few of the blocks on it didn’t quite match up perfectly. I love it anyway! I decided when I wanted to try quilting that I would strive for excellence, not perfection. It looks good, even though it’s not perfect! πŸ™‚

  72. Sam says:

    So many great tips. I can’t wait to finish my first quilt so I can start another using all the great info you have here!

  73. omama says:

    I love Quilting Month! Thanks for even more handy tips. You ladies are lovely!

  74. elle says:

    The pin placement was very enlightening!

  75. Susan says:

    I just started my first quilt yesterday and laughed about not aligning the seams – small imperfections but I love it just the same because its coming together so nicely. If I’d read this first it may have helped. Can’t wait for more advice as I start my next quilt.

  76. Great tips and advice. I’ve struggled with matching seams and will take some of your tips onboard. Thanks so much.

  77. Stacy says:

    I love the advice to ‘get your nose out of your quilt’. As a recovering perfectionist, it’s a wonderful reminder about priorities. Thanks!

  78. Char says:

    I volunteer at my local middle school helping the students to make donation quilts. They always think chain piecing is the most amazing thing!

  79. Ellen Ban says:

    I’m going to try that pinning technique of the last side to see if my seams will match up better that way! Thanks for some great tips.

  80. Lori K says:

    Thank you for the great tips and information on piecing!

  81. Love this series! Thanks for the great tips!

  82. Mrs. JP says:

    I think I just became a “seam open” quilter! I’ve always wondered why when making a garment seams are open and when I started quilting they are to one side. That block looks much flatter. Thanks for the tips

  83. Sarah S says:

    Awesome, very helpful!

  84. Melissa says:

    I love crisp points. I can’t get over how great a quilt looks when the points are crisp. Thanks for this!!

  85. Patti M says:

    I love all your tips w/ the pictures. I think the perfection part was one of the things holding me back from starting!

  86. Tally says:

    I start my chain even before with kind of a “dummy”:
    I start some stitches before the edge of a double layer of scraps and the chain stitch my first unit.
    This gives a much nicer beginning and I*m secure that the feed dogs don’t eat my fabric.

  87. Rochelle says:

    great pics for joining the blocks accurately!

  88. Patty Simmons says:

    Great tutorial and will help me in teaching my daughter beginning quilting.

  89. Deb V says:

    Thanks for all the great tips. I especially like the one about perfection. I have my nose to close to the fabric. I need to step back.

  90. Marcelle says:

    Thanks for these excellent tips! Imperfections usually are not seen on finished pieces. Recently I started looking at the details of relatives sewn items or some bought pieces to check if these are perfect and have seen that not all the hem lines for example are a perfect straight line.

  91. Andi says:

    Great tips on strip piecing – I always wondered what I was doing wrong that the sewn strips tended to curve – now I know how to fix it, thanks!

  92. duff says:

    As long as I have been quilting it never freakin’ occurred to me to pin the side of the seam allowance that the needle reaches last. I always nestle them so it’s usually not a problem, but more than a few times I have had imperfect seams and it irritates me (only when it’s a gift. for me, no problem). Thank you for this!!

  93. ~Helena~ says:

    Thanks for sharing

  94. ~Helena~ says:

    Thanks, I really could of used the advice about not worry small imperfections. I do like how you touched on both methods of pressing to side or press open.

  95. Lynn says:

    Is it my imagination or does the block with seams pressed open look neater? I’m going to have to make a habit of pressing my seams open.

  96. Carrie Ayn says:

    I am loving all of these lessons! I am dying to start making my first quilt….so all of this is perfect! Thank you, thank you!

  97. That’s a great tutorial, thank you! πŸ™‚

  98. Deanna says:

    I find the speed piecing techniques save not only time in the sewing process, but other parts, too. Less time spend winding bobbins, as less thread is used. Less time up and down to the ironing board–I can take the whole section with me. It is still a contemplative process, that is the nature of quilting, but one that I enjoy more.

  99. Sorahart says:

    I’m getting more and more tempted each day to start my first quilt!!!

  100. Jackie H says:

    OOoo…chain piecing – that sounds like such a great idea! Thanks for this tute! πŸ™‚

  101. JJ says:

    Great info!

  102. Alexis says:

    This very helpful. Can’t wait until the next installment πŸ™‚


  103. Lynne says:

    I am going to follow the tip about pinning on the seam you reach last – I have a fabulous diagonal madness Kaffe Fassett quilt to make for my mum which will require a lot of seams to meet and I haven’t tried your tip before. I have also broked needles on pins and it’s really really annoying!

  104. Katie B says:

    Thanks for the helpful tips! I love the info on chain piecing. I’ve been trying to do my own version, but this explanation makes it much clearer.

  105. I’m a big fan of chain piecing!

  106. Sara Hemmeke says:

    a friend and I are in this process right now, making a signature/friendship quilt for a dear family that’s moving away. Your tips are very helpful!

  107. Hilary says:

    I wish I had read this before all the work I did this morning! I will have to get my nose out of my quilt…

  108. Liz says:

    finally learned how to do chain piecing just a few weeks ago…it’s awesome! now i just have to remember my new skillz.

  109. Kaye Prince says:

    I have never tried chain piecing, but I’m definitely going to give it a go! Thanks for the tips!

  110. Thank You for sharing your expert tips!

  111. Andrea says:

    Wow this is super helpful. I am starting my 2nd quilt today, and my last one the squares just did not line up all that well. I am going to try that chain piecing technique.

  112. Tong says:

    I love chain piecing, have yet to try strip piecing though. Thanks again for the great series!

  113. Kristine says:

    Chain piecing is awesome. Such a time saver!

  114. Sylvie says:

    Thank you for the free lesson!

  115. Regina says:

    Good reminders – I love chain piecing, too!!!

  116. Sheryl says:

    This is very helpful. I am especially interested in week 4’s article on keeping up the momentum!

  117. Andy says:

    Thanks for the string piecing tips!

  118. Rachel says:

    I just chain pieced for the first time on my current quilt project. I’ll definitely be doing that again next time!

  119. Southern Gal says:

    The pictures help a great deal. Thanks.

  120. Diana says:

    So glad to know that I’m doing my chain piecing correctly! I taught myself from a magazine that didn’t give many details. And I’ll have to try the strip piecing, too. Thanks so much!

  121. Jessica says:

    Good tips found here! πŸ˜€

  122. sookhyun says:

    such great tips, thank you!

  123. Jessica says:

    I’m about to start my first quilt! Thank you for all the tutorials.

  124. MegVS says:

    Very helpful! Thanks!

  125. Carly says:

    So helpful…just quilted my first project and have lots to learn!! Thank you!

  126. Jenny says:

    very good. I agree…pin pin pin! πŸ™‚ It’s so worth it and actually saves time in the end.

  127. Elizabeth says:

    I wish I had this tutorial a couple months ago when I was trying to match seams for my quilt! Boy did it take forever!

  128. Zegi says:

    I’m glad to see you included pressing seams open. Seems like that is getting a lot of buzz lately. This is the first time I’ve seen it given credit by being included in a tutorial/demo type situation. Thanks!

  129. Lisa says:

    great lesson!! thanks…

  130. PeachRainbow says:

    Clearly explained, Thank you!
    I like the chain piecing method too, saves time and thread.

  131. This post is so helpful for newbie quilters. Everyday I post a quilt block of the day with a simple tutorial on my blog. That might be helpful for some newbies who aren’t sure what to sew!

  132. Mary Lou says:

    Another nice tutorial. Very helpful. Now if I could just sew a straight line…

  133. Melissa C says:

    I love chain piecing. It not only saves time, it saves thread.

  134. delitealex says:

    Very helpful.

  135. Megan Presley says:

    Thank you! This was extremely helpful!

  136. Upstatelisa says:

    Great tips Jacquie! Thanks!

  137. bonnie says:

    Guess I have been doing it right as I already do all those things.

  138. Michele says:

    So helpful!

  139. Elizabeth says:

    This is so helpful on a topic I have struggled with. Thank you!

  140. Shelly says:

    I love the idea about chain piecing! Not lifing that presser foot or snipping the threads, this saves on thread and saves time from threading that bobbin more often, thanks for the tip!

  141. Kathy says:

    Thanks for the advice regarding imperfections. I’m not perfect, and it’s ok that my quilts aren’t either.

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