While sewing together the hundreds of tiny squares in my daughter's Liberty quilt, I've had the opportunity to experiment with what I find to be the best techniques for ensuring the squares align perfectly, without the need for a seam ripper and cursing. As well as the obvious ones, such as cutting accurately in the first place and sewing with a precise 1/4" seam allowance, I've come to realise that it has a lot to do with pinning.
When I'm dressmaking, I'll often pin whilst holding the fabric pieces up in mid-air, perhaps instinctively trying to raise the fabrics toward a light source. However, I've found that with a long run of tiny patchwork pieces to pin, I'm far more accurate when I rest the pieces on my knee. The cord or denim of my trousers is less slippery than a table and naturally holds the bottom layer in place, whilst I align the upper seam to it.
I then place a pin through each side of the opened seam allowances to ensure that there's no movement at the central seam. Placing the pins perpendicular to the edge of the fabric, rather than slightly angled, also seems to help.
Finally, I do something that I know I shouldn't do. I sew straight over the pins. I found that if I removed them half an inch before the presser foot reached them, the fabric would often move a fraction, meaning my seams became slightly misaligned. Leaving the pins in place means that the fabric stays exactly where I intend it to be. I'm aware that if you hit a pin at speed you can not only seriously damage your machine, but also risk snapping the needle and having it catapult into your eye, so I have certain safety precautions that I take. Firstly, I sew fast for an inch in between pins and then slow to snail's pace while travelling over the pins - at this speed my needle never actually hits a pin as it tends to gently slide to one side or the other, meaning that the two never meet head on. Additionally, because my needles are placed at right angles to the fabric edge, the needle finds it easier to slide to one side or the other. And finally, I try to remember to wear sunglasses. They're just one step away from a pair of safety goggles and make me feel as though I'm 'Sewing Responsibly' while being foolish.
Ironing the seams open seems to take almost as long as the sewing itself and I eventually developed tricks to minimise finger burning as I pressed open each of the tiny squares' seam allowances. I begin by ironing the strip of pieced squares on the right side to ensure the front of the seam is fully opened (this will often mean that the seam allowances are pressed to one side, but that's rectified in the next step. I then turn it over and finger-pressing each of the seams open. They tend to flap back into place, but it makes enough of an inroad to allow the nose of the iron to be nudged between the seam allowances without having to use your fingers to pull them into place. I have wondered if the wrong end of a spoon would make a good finger subsitute when one's needed in close proximity to the iron.