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What Is A Scant?

Summary

Everyone has a different definition of what a "scant" quarter inch seam allowance is. I want to clear the air and demonstrate how you can get a "exact" quarter inch seam each time you sew for accurate blocks.

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What Is A Scant?

When I started quilting in 1985 I was taught that I had to sew a "scant" quarter inch seam allowance. I was told that it was a thread's width from a quarter inch. Every pattern I read used the word "scant" so I purchased a quilting foot (1/4" foot) and worked hard to get my seam allowance right. Sometimes the edge of the fabric went under or past the edge of the foot. I never could get a consistent seam allowance. Being the perfectionist that I am (only when I'm sewing!) I thought that there had to be a better way.

What Is a Scant?

 

What is your definition?

As I travel and teach quilting the first thing I ask my students is "What is your definition of a "scant" quarter inch seam allowance"? There were many answers. Some said a thread's width, some said two thread's width, some said a "smidge"! I tell them "THOSE ARE NOT MATHEMATICAL TERMS!!!!" Then I go on to tell them about an "accurate" quarter inch seam allowance.

You are probably asking me how I came to that conclusion! I joined a local quilt guild in 1990 and saw wonderful quilts from other quilt members. Every meeting there would be an optional block. Each member that, was interested, could purchase the block's fabrics and directions for $1 and take them home to make it. They would bring it back the next meeting and there would be a drawing for all of the blocks that were brought back. I noticed that not all of the blocks were the same size.

 

I decided to start taking workshops from the national teachers that the guild would bring in. Some talked about that mysterious "scant" quarter inch. But not until I took two workshops, one from Sharyn Craig and the other from Sally Collins, did I finally figure out the best way to get an "exact" quarter inch seam allowance. Sharyn Craig's method was to use a very expensive tool called Dr. Scholl's Molefoam Foot Pads! Yes, the kind you can get from your local store. She demonstrated how to first move your needle all of the way to the right using your general sewing foot that has a wide opening (if your machine allows it),  measure the "scant" 1/4" from your needle using a ruler and place the molefoam next to your sewing foot.

molefoam

 

This worked well for me but I still wasn't satisfied. My blocks still did not measure right when they were done. I did start getting a consistent seam allowance and my seams matched but I thought I was still doing something wrong. My blocks did not always measure what they were suppose to when I finished.

 

Not until I took a workshop from Sally Collins did I finally started getting the end result I wanted. She is a national award winning quilter who makes miniatures. Everything about her quilts were perfect! I wanted my quilts to look like that. Her secret was using a tool called Collin's Seam Gauge (no affiliation to the name). She put her needle in the 1/4" hole and measured from that. She used her quarter inch foot and sewed a perfect quarter inch.

seam gauge

 

Now being the picky person I am, I still wasn't satisfied. I did not like using my quarter inch foot because it did not cover both feed dogs on the machine. (No it has nothing to do with dogs.) The feed dogs are the part of the machine that moves the fabric and it did not seem to feed the fabric well when they were not both covered. So, AHA, I decided to combine Sharyn Craig's method of moving the needle to the right, using the Collin's Seam Gauge, AND placing the Molefoam next to the ruler. VOILA!!!!  I had a perfect quarter inch. And it was a MATHEMATICAL term!

my seam

 

Now, I could place the edges of the fabric touching the Molefoam and I could get a perfect 1/4" seam allowance from the beginning of the strip all the way to the end. I could also see where the edge of the fabric was and make adjustments if I had to. This small trick was helping me have consistent seams on all of my projects.

mole foam

 

Now, I found that there was one thing that was missing from this equation: Cutting the strips. That was another area that I was struggling with. I was never sure where to place the edge of my fabric. There was that little black line, but I didn't know where to put it. I realized that the little black line was that thread's width that everyone was talking about! So I included that little skinny line when I lined up the ruler on my fabric.

ruler fabric

 

I finally go the end result I wanted. If the block was suppose to finish at 12-1/2", it finished at 12-1/2"! My seams were not only consistent, everything matched where they were suppose to. I was thrilled with the results!

Now some of you are probably saying to yourself "I am happy with what I am doing". I know that not everyone is the perfectionist that I am when it comes to quilting. If you are happy with how your blocks come out, then by all means, continue what you are doing. There are NO quilt police to tell you you are doing it wrong. This works if you are the only one sewing on the quilt. But, if you ever do a project where a number of people are making blocks and you notice that they are different sizes, you need to show everyone how to get that EXACT quarter inch seam allowance so that they will all get the same size blocks. Your friends will all think you are a genius! Of course you will tell them "Toby Lischko showed me how to do that"!

If you are interested in more tips and demonstrations, consider following Toby Lishko on QuiltingHub.  I also recommended clicking my blog page. Feel free to leave comments to let me know if this has helped your sewing and please share it with your quilting friends. Thank you for reading, Toby Lischko

 

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Glossary

Block
The basic unit of a quilt top, usually square but can be rectangular or other shapes. Blocks can be pieced, appliqued or plain.
Feed Dogs
The mechanical teeth under the area of a sewing machine which move to pull the fabric through the machine. For free motion quilting or embroidery or needle darning these feed dogs are lowered or covered.
Foot
Accessories that are available for sewing machines and are especially made for quilting.
Quarter Inch Foot
Most sewing machine companies now offer a special quilting foot for their machines called a quarter inch foot which measures exactly 1/4 inch from needle point to inner edge of the foot to make sewing a perfect 1/4 inch seam easier. Some people call this a Quilting Foot.
Ruler
A heavy plastic measuring guide that can come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Seam Allowance
The width of fabric left to the right of a sewn seam. In quilting this is traditionally 1/4 inch. For sewing garments it is usually 5/8 inch.
Strip
A construction technique in which long, narrow pieces of cloth are joined lengthwise, sometimes with long rows of quilt blocks, to form a quilt top. The term "strip" can be used to describe the long pieces of fabric between blocks (see Sashing) or to describe the small, narrow remnants used in string patchwork.

See Also: Sashing
Author
Toby Lischko
I am an award winning quilter, designer, and teacher and I have been quilting for over 25 years. I consider myself a traditional quilter who likes to add my own twist to quilt designs. I have a passion for teaching so that I can share my knowledge of quilting and try to give my students the same enthusiasm as I have by imparting tips and techniques to make them realize that they can do it too! I have a quilting store in Beaufort, Missouri and my page http://www.quiltinghub.com/Pages/EntityID/5Tr6 which has a link to my website that carries my patterns, templates, book, and a wide assortment of fabrics and quilt kits.
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