Sunday, 8 February 2015

The secret that quilters rarely speak of - easing

I was watching House (the tv show) recently and there was an episode where one of the doctors was planning to give a speech at a medical conference entitled "Euthanasia - we all do it. Now let's talk about it". It reminded me of the one technique that I (and I suspect many other quilters) use but which we never discuss. No, not killing people (if you do that you really shouldn't discuss it!) - easing.

When I first started quilting my pieces didn't always fit together perfectly. Maybe a piece had been miscut; maybe my 1/4" seam wasn't perfectly straight; or my fabric wasn't exactly lined up. More likely it was all three! Common sense said that I should just unpick and redo but when all my seams were only very slightly off, I couldn't bear the thought of having to start again from the beginning. In some cases I didn't have the fabric available to. So I learnt the age-old technique of "easing" the mismatched seams so that they fit. 

A word of warning for any beginners - easing is not a magic solution to fix everything. It has its own problems but occasionally these are less severe than having slightly mismatched seams. In that case, easing is your friend! So how do you ease two pieces together so that they fit? 

1. Do you have enough room? Easing only works if the seam that you are trying (and failing) to match up is long enough to ease in the amount of excess mismatched fabric. If your seams are only 1/16" or 1/8" off, you can usually ease that in over a fairly short seam. If they're 3/8" or more off and your seam is short, you need to redo the block. I have managed to ease in 1/2" over a 33" long seam before but the results weren't pretty. Here's a block I had recently where there was about 1/8" excess to ease I'm over a 6" seam. 

2. Match up your starting point. The one part of the seam that you aren't going to be able to ease is the start so ensure that you match up the starting points accurately.

3. Pin. Pin a lot. Each pin is going to give you an opportunity to spread out the excess fabric and avoid buckling and creasing so pin lots. When easing, I start with a pin at the beginning and end. I also cross pin the start and end, putting a pin in perpendicular to the seam I'm going to sew but below it to ensure that the edges which I'm not sewing don't get pulled out of alignment. It's easy to end up matching the first seam perfectly but pulling the pieces so far out of alignment that the rest of the block is skewed. These extra pins minimize the risk of that.

4. Pin more. Your two pieces aren't going to lay perfectly flat together because one has more fabric than the other. It will cause gapping to appear between the fabrics. In the picture below there is more white fabric than yellow, hence the white fabric bows away from the yellow. Hold the top corners of the two pieces of fabric and very gently pull the corners in opposite ditrections. This should stretch the fabrics along the grain line, bringing them closer together. Pin in the middle to make sure the fabrics stay together. Pin either side of this centre pin to ensure that the excess fabric is evening spread out along the seam.

5. Start sewing. Sewing slowly up to your second pin, pull gently down on the pin (whilst it's still in the fabric) to provide counter tension to the needle and foot. This will flatten out the fabric. Remove the second pin and the continue sewing up to the third pin, pulling gently down on this one too. Repeat until you reach the end of the seam.

6. Check the end. How much did you manage to ease in? Do you want to unpick and try again or do the edges now match? I managed to ease in about a 1/16" which I thought was acceptable. I could have pulled harder on the fabric and eased in more but such harsh easing brings problems...

7. Have you skewed the bias? I only ease on grain or cross grain seams, never on the bias. Bias is very stretchy but easing will completely distort a bias edge so that the fabric will not then fit with the rest of the block. You will effectively solve one problem but create three more.

8. Does the block lay flat? Easing causes waves or buckles in all seams but it's particularly noticeable in longer seams. Ever had wavy borders? That's unwanted easing caused by borders cut too short or too long to fit the quilt. One eased seam in a smallish block is unlikely to be noticeable but waves in longer or more prominent seams will show in your finished quilt. 

Sorry if I've upset any of the quilt police out there by mentioning the unmentionable; I can only promise it won't be the last time...

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