One of the most common terms in quilting lingo is "easing in fullness". For beginning quilters, this can be confusing! What exactly does it mean to ease in fullness and exactly how do you do that? This tutorial will answer those questions and provide some guidelines you can use to troubleshoot your quilt piecing in the future so you are less likely to end up with extra fabric where it shouldn't be!
Why is There Extra Fabric to Begin With?
The most common reason for one side of your piecing to be longer than the other is because of stretching. Stretching is the enemy of accurate piecing! Stretching can occur for many reasons, such as improper pressing, not enough care being taken when working with cross grain or bias edges, or stretching that occurs when ripping out previous stitching. Most of these issues can be eliminated or greatly reduced by taking steps to improve the quality and accuracy of your piecing. For an in-depth look at ways to improve your piecing accuracy see my blog post Tips for Perfect Quilt Piecing
How to Ease in Fullness
In the following photos (taken when I was making the sample quilt for my pattern Fancy Frames
), you will notice there is almost 1/2 inch that needs to be eased in. This specific issue occurred because I had previously ripped out the seam due to the block being in the wrong direction. Even though I was careful, the ripping out process resulted in nearly 1/2 inch of fabric that needed to be eased in. This was probably because the sashing strip had been cut on the cross grain, so it naturally had more stretch than if it had been cut on the straight of grain. More on fabric grain below
To begin the easing in process, place three pins in the seam (one at each end and one in the middle). If your seam includes blocks or seams to match, start with placing one pin at each end and a pin at the points that need to be matched. As you pin, try to smooth the top fabric evenly, so that the fullness can be evenly distributed as you pin.
Then place pins at the halfway point between the previously placed pins.
Keep adding pins halfway between the pins placed in the previous row. Again, taking care to even out the fabric as you go. Keep adding pins until you feel you can sew the seam smoothly, without the excess fabric causing bulk or being pushed forward and puckering as you sew.
Take your piecing to the sewing machine and begin to sew the seam. (The purple strip along the right side of my fabric is the Sewing Edge Seam Guide
, a reusable vinyl strip to help in achieving accurate 1/4" seams.) Sew the seam slowly, sewing right up to each pin and removing it just before you would sew over it. (Some people like to sew right over the pins, but in my opinion, the risk of breaking a needle and possibly getting it caught in the bobbin area and/or messing up your machine's timing are too great.)
This is the same process you would use when attaching borders. To avoid wavy or stretched borders, pin the border fabric to the quilt top at the ends and in the middle. Smooth out the fabric between the pins so it is evenly distributed. Continue pinning as above, placing pins between the previous pins until you feel the border is smooth enough to begin sewing.
Tips to Prevent Fabric Stretching and Extra Fullness
As the saying goes...an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Quilt piecing is no exception! The following guidelines will help you prevent needing to ease in fullness....at least most the time!
Make a Test Block
Its a good idea to make a test block out of scrap fabric to test your measurements, seam accuracy and understanding of the block construction. Measure your test block to be sure it's correct according to your pattern instructions. If any adjustments are needed to your seam allowance or cutting measurements, you can fix the problem before it becomes manifest in your actual quilt top.
Pay Attention to the Fabric Grain
The grainline of fabric refers to the direction of the warp and weft threads used in weaving the fabric. There are three grainlines - Straight or lengthwise grain, cross grain and bias grain as described below.
- Straight or Lengthwise grain runs the direction of the warp threads which run parallel to the selvages. When we cut fabric parallel to the selvage edge, we are cutting on the straight grain. Fabric cut on the straight grain has the least amount of stretching, nearly no stretch at all.
- Cross grain are the direction of the weft threads that run perpendicular to the selvages. When we cut along the width of fabric (perpendicular to the selvage edge), we are cutting on the cross grain. Cross grain has the next amount of stretch, much more than the straight of grain.
- Bias grain is when fabric is cut at a 45 degree angle from the straight of grain. Bias grain has the most amount of stretch. This is why we need to take extra care when working with triangles or fabric cut on the diagonal. Bias grain is often used when stretch is needed, such as when you need binding for a round or curved shape.
Having knowledge of fabric grain helps tremendously when piecing a quilt top. Knowing that fabric on the straight of grain will not stretch or distort and knowing that fabric cut on the cross or bias grain will, gives you a heads-up on where to begin your piecing and which edge to piece first.
Pressing vs Ironing
To the layman, the words pressing and ironing are used interchangeably. They are not the same however, and the difference between them can make a world of difference in the accuracy of our piecing.
Ironing is what our mothers did to our father's cotton shirts. Its the process of moving the hot iron back and forth across the fabric to smooth out the wrinkles. Pressing is when you raise and lower the iron as you move from spot to spot. There is no sideways motion in pressing. A hot iron can easily distort fabric and that's a no-no when piecing quilt tops. Always press, never iron your piecing.
Probably the most important tip to achieve accurate piecing is to use starch. This will greatly reduce any stretching, thus making your piecing more accurate. Since the cross grain stretches quite a bit, its really helpful to use a starch product to stabilize the fabric and minimize stretching.
My favorite starch product is Mary Ellen's Best Press, I prefer it to regular starch or sizing, although I have all three in my arsenal. To apply starch, spray the right side of the fabric evenly and press with a medium-hot iron, NOT steam. You want to keep steam/water away from the fabric until after its pieced or quilted.
This process of easing in fullness applies whether your fullness is in an entire row of blocks, a seam within a block, or when sewing individual blocks together. It's a method of troubleshooting a problem that happens to every quilter from time to time. Knowing how to ease in the fullness in your quilt piecing will make you a more confident quilter and enhance your enjoyment of the process!
Until next time, happy quilting!