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Quarter Inch Seam - The Quilter's Choice How To Get It and How It Has Changed

Hello Everyone, Today's subject is going to be all about the quilter's quarter inch seam. I used to think  that all sewing machines were the same and as such all quarter inch seams were just that, a quarter inch seam. Boy, was I ever wrong! The more I worked with different vintage sewing machines and treadle sewing machines the easier it was to see just how much the quarter inch seam varies from machine to machine. My intentions with this discussion is to highlight the various ways that quilters  measure and sew the consistent quarter inch seam so all the pieces match up for the completed block.

quarter inch tools

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The first thing I learned dealing with turn-of-the-century treadle machines of different manufacturers was that most of them included a seam guide as part of the accessory package. My assumption is they wanted to keep the presser foot the same width as the feed dogs  and the feed dogs were too narrow to yield a quarter inch guide on the edge of the foot. These guides are also adjustable to allow for the wider garment seams, generally 3/8 ths or one-third of an inch and the 1/2 inch seams used for the heavier coarse fabric weaves.  To use this type guide the bed of the machine has a threaded  hole on the right side of the needle plate. The "leg" of the "T" is slotted to allow it to be mounted to the bed with a thumb screw.  The guide is a "T" shape piece of metal with a wide 90-degree edge that acts as the fabric stop. The biggest downfall of using this type of  seam guide is keeping it square when tightening it down so it maintains a precise distance from the needle.

seam guide

There are also similar  commercial manufactured guides that utilize a magnetic base to secure it in place instead of a threaded screw hole. Of course, these do not work on an aluminum bed or the newer plastic beds. And if you have an older or steel bed machine you can also use a hobby magnet  of your choice for a cheaper alternative.

magnet as seam guide

Now moving right along with history and technology, somewhere along the way someone started to figure out how to widen the feed dogs  and thus widened the presser foot as well and suddenly the edge of the presser foot would either yield a quarter inch seam  or a seam that would measure out for garments at 3/8ths of an inch.  At about the same time there were also technology advances with the needle plate on the machines, some machines were being shipped out with the measurements stamped into the plate so all you needed to do was line up on the right mark and hold it steady.

seams marked on needle plate

And as usual, there is a very nice work-around to achieve these same seams following a similar idea as the marked plates,including a down and dirty exact quarter means of measuring. Mel did a full post including a video on how to get that perfect quarter inch seam the down and dirty way.

My favorite means to keep seams accurate is to use a presser foot with a built in guide. The guide is actually a thin spring blade that extends below the foot when the foot is raised and as the foot is lowered it retracts by means of the spring action being pushed up by the needle plate. This style of foot originated  with the industrial machines and switching seam width requires a foot change. I was lucky enough to have been given several sets of these feet measuring in 1/16 th inch increments from 1/16 th to 7/8 ths of an inch.  Mine are Singer industrial feet which means high shank,but they work perfectly in high shank Necchis and Kenmores, not the super high shank Kenmore, as well as my Anker.  They are extremely easy to fall in love with, I have seen this type foot available through different dealers and manufacturers so they can be purchased for any machine you choose to use. Also in that bag of goodies were two blade type feet with an adjustment bar so the width could simply be adjusted without having to change the foot. I have played a little with them but not enough to voice an educated opinion.

three quarter inch sewing machine feet
Two industrial quarter inch feet and a traditional quarter inch quilting foot.

The last improvement that I am aware of for the vintage machine,(keep in mind that I am uneducated with the new computerized digital technology) is the presser feet themselves. Some manufacturers use a wider foot with marks on the top and  edge to use as a sight line to guide the fabric through  and essentially yielding a precise seam. As long as you guide to the same line every time you will have a perfect seam every time.  I hope this will help some of you and I am sure some will get a good chuckle at my efforts.   May you all be blessed with perfect seams, OR sharp rippers. Until next time enjoy your machines.

elusive quarter inch seam

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  1. Interesting post on the evolution of the quarter inch foot/guide. Thank you!