Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Pinning fabrics

 
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.

 
The needle rubbing the side of the pins inevitably dulls it a little sooner than would usually happen, but that seems a small price to pay for happily aligned seams and minimal intervention from the seam ripper.


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.


Have you any tricks for keeping intersecting seams aligned or pressing open seams easily?

Florence x

20 comments:

  1. Well, I do pretty much what you've just described (minus the sun-glasses!) but I do like to use quite fine patchwork pins - maybe it's just the photo but your pins look quite big. Clover make some really lovely fine ones which are perfect and the needle seems to slide right over them without any problems.

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    1. Ditto for me. In fact, I just started sewing over pins in this circumstance, and I've had to do SO much less seam ripping.

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  2. I don't sew over pins, to scared of consequences but I do use a quick un pic or awl to hold the join as I slip the pin out and sew over it. I also use fine Clover pins with glass heads- easier to see and easier on my finger tips. A finger pressing tool is helpful too- Clover again

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  3. I nest seams - press one seam one way and the next the other way and then, as you sew, the seams naturally butt up against each other and you get perfect meeting points without the need for pins or sunglasses...

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  4. I alternate between sewing over pins (and occasionally through the heads of them, when I use those flat headed quilting pins) and pulling them out. I find if I'm careful pulling them out it's fine, but either leaving them in or pulling them out definitely requires a bit of slowing up as you approach the pin.

    Gorgeous quilt!

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  5. I have always sewn over pins--and hadn't even heard until a few years ago that people frown on it! That was just the way I learned, but I have seen enough horrified looks on people's faces lately that I was planning a very similar blog post to this one. I have stopped apologizing for my insistence on sewing over my pins--I have certainly hit pins and broken needles, but have never damaged my machine and still totally have two eyes. :)

    Excited to see your quilt finished, and get motivated to finish the matching ones for my girls!

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  6. I have always sewn over pins--and hadn't even heard until a few years ago that people frown on it! That was just the way I learned, but I have seen enough horrified looks on people's faces lately that I was planning a very similar blog post to this one. I have stopped apologizing for my insistence on sewing over my pins--I have certainly hit pins and broken needles, but have never damaged my machine and still totally have two eyes. :)

    Excited to see your quilt finished, and get motivated to finish the matching ones for my girls!

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  7. I pretty much do exactly the same as you do, I always pin on my knees place the pins vertically and sew straight over them. I don't wear sunglasses though!

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  8. I've never tried ironing my seams open in patchwork as I would in dressmaking! Mine are always ironed to one side.

    I'm far too lazy and slapdash to use pins, but my seams usually line up nicely because I start assembling my quilts in the middle and work outwards, so there's minimal opportunity for things to go wrong.

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  9. I can't wait to see this quilt all done! It looks beautiful! Though I am terribly disappointed that there is no sunglasses photo :)

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  10. I always sew over my pins too, although I pin with the head of the pin pointing the other way so that only the tip of the pin is under the needle. I prefer to iron my seams open but get tired of burned finger too. Saw a notion in most recent sewing catalog: Thermal Fingers. A little spendy, I wonder if fingers cut from dishwashing gloves would work? Anyway, love the quilt.

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  11. Have you tried the Clover Mini Iron? Sold on Amazon, Cotton Patch etc. It's wonderful for tiny tricky seams! Beautiful quilt by the way.

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  12. There are three great tips here already. I use the really fine quilting pins. There are two types in the shops here. One type is simply long and the same diameter as a regular pin. The other ones are really fine like a needle, also long, and have pretty heads that are made of plastic and that I have been known to sew through without a problem!!! Press the seam allowance towards the darker fabric and it will create the smallest bump and help the seam to align. White squares go the opposite direction, but both bits are folded together. This also makes ironing a bit easier sometimes. Sometimes. There are some small irons that you can actually use while sitting at the sewing machine. I know of Clover brand, but there are probably others. There is also some type of glue that is applied like a glue stick. I have never seen it but it is used in heirloom sewing. Avoid sewing over pins and use a stiletto or some other useful tool, a laying tool perhaps, to hold the fabric in place for just a few seconds. Sewing over pins could cause a piece to fly up as you say, but can also cause the machine gradually to go out of alignment.
    This project is potentially very difficult. You are a star for doing this for your daughter. I hope it is treasured throughout her life.

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  13. Great tips from you and Louise Mitchie., particulately for small squares or strips. The quilt is looking lovely.

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  14. I use the same pinning technique and also sew over pins. I use Clover Silk pins. They don't tend to move the fabric when inserting and will also bend before snapping or breaking a needle. I most often nest my seams and only press open if there is going to be bulk. Great tips you've shared!

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  15. Lovely quilt!
    Go for the long, fine pins, with flower heads, they're much thinner if you're worried about slowing down.
    Also, I nest my seams as well, so much neater and they always line up too.
    But I don't press the seams out, I press the seam towards the darker fabric every time, that way you won't see them through your lovely white pieces.

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  16. I can't believe quite how many different ways there are - thank you so much for all the ideas. I am now coveting some finer, flower-headed pins and interested to try nesting my seams...although it may be some time before I can face another piecing marathon on this scale...

    Florence x

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  17. I started using clover fork pins. They are fork shaped so your seams don´t move and they are finer than regular pins so you can sew over them (though carefully). They are quite expensive but I don´t use that many and again I won´t buy them for years

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  18. Looks like I will be buying some fine pins after reading all the comments! I just have the regular shorter, thicker ones at the moment. I have never read a blog post on pinning and have been wishing for ages that someone would write one, so thank you! I am yet to start my first patchwork and have been wondering how to make sure it all lines up right! When I pin it distorts the fabric quite a bit, but I pin in the opposite direction and would have thought I should pin in the middle of squares rather than the other way round at the seams, you have potentially saved me a LOT of seam ripping and frustration!

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  19. Hehe, it did make me chuckle that you put on your sunglasses to sew over the pins. I could imagine you in some very glamourous Jackie-O style sunglasses. The quilt looks beautiful. So far, so good! x

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I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x