Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How do you feel about a little stripping?

I'm being a tease, but I bet  that peaked your interest. Read on brave quilter because we are going to talk about inset seams. 
Inset seaming is a technique I’ve adapted and applied to quilting but it originates from a couture sewing technique used to place delicate thin strips of fragile lace/ other delicate fabrics into garments such as lingerie and special occasion wear.

Inset seaming in quilting allows you to place very thin strips of fabric into a larger piece of fabric (or pieced quilt top). Once you get comfortable with this technique you can inset fabric strips of 1/8th of an inch wide (sometimes even less as you get better).  
Read between the Lines- 3rd place use of Negative Space
 at QuiltCon 2015- Austin, TX
The inset seams are seem here as thin colorful straight lines in the quilt top. 

Tools of the trade
some of the supplies you will need

You will need the following to tackle inset seams:

Patience and a desire to try something new and maybe even a bit scary.
Sewing machine and basic sewing supplies
Coordinating thread (or contrasting thread for the basting - see Step 10 below)
Fabric (background) This is what you will set the seam into
Fabric (inset) This is the fabric you will inset. 
Inset straight seams: cut strips 1” x WOF
Inset curved seams : cut strips on the BIAS 1” wide
Rotary cutter/cutting mat
seam ripper (very important)
washable glue stick
Machine sewing feet
1/4” foot
zipper foot
standard straight stitch foot
Ruler (preferably 18” long)
*iron/ironing board/ spray bottle of water/starch

Before you begin
Iron all fabric being careful not to stretch bias strips

Step 1: On your ironing board, fold your background fabric over, right sides together, and iron a crisp seam. (If you are working on a finished quilt top and insetting seams after piecing, I suggest you plan your fold on a flat surface and pin, then take this to your ironing board to set the seam).


Step 2: Take this fabric to your sewing machine. With your straight stitch selected, choose the longest stitch length. 
choose a long stitch length

Keeping the pressed folded over seam directly to your right, and using your 1/4” foot, sew the length of your pressed fabric.
fold immediately to the right 

*If you are insetting your seam into an already pieced top, use your standard straight stitch foot to sew the seam. You are likely to encounter some of your pieced seams and having slightly more fabric to work with helps greatly. Trust me, I know this.

Step 3: Take the fabric to your cutting surface and using a rotary cutter and a ruler barely cut of the folded edge of your pressed seam. If you have never cut  into a pieced quilt top, this part is scary. I suggest you practice first with something not quite so precious, even though I did not follow my own advice when first attempting inset seaming, I did learn (the hard way) that  it’s critical to use your standard foot in an already pieced top and equally important to conserve fabric so be very stingy cutting the folded edge open. 
be stingy cutting off the fold

I'm serious about the skimpy trimming

Step 4: Press your seam open. On already pieced tops, using a bit of spritzed water or starch will make your task easier.
seam ironed open

Step 5: Take your fabric back to your cutting board and place it seam side up. 

Step 6: Use your washable glue stick, or preferred method of glue basting to run a line of glue on the pressed open pieces of the seam allowance. Try and keep glue out of the center basted seam. 

For straight inset seams: Using your 1” straight of grain inset fabric, place right side down onto the glue trying to evenly distribute the fabric strip across the pressed seam.
For curved inset seams: Using your bias cut 1” fabric strip, place right side down onto the glue gently following the curve and trying to evenly distribute the fabric strip across the pressed seam.
fabric inset strip right side down on glued seam allowance

Step 7: iron fabric strip in place to set glue.

Step 8:  Back at your machine and working as gently as possible, lift one side of the pressed open seam/glued inset strip away from the background fabric.  Unless you have been neurotic with your gluing some of it will be stuck. Once lifted away, you should be looking at one side of the basting stitch from step 2.  Place your fabrics onto your machine with the basting stitch to your left and the glued inset/background fabric cut edge to your right. Set your machine to your standard stitch length (I can't tell you how many time I have forgotten to do this), making any needle adjustments for your zipper foot and stitch as close as possible to the basted seam.
Reset your stitch length, reset your stitch length, reset your stitch length

 (The distance you now stitch  from the basted seam dictates the width of your inset seam. Some machines allow side needle adjustment so that you can be consistent every time with your seams and get very small inset pieces.)
you can just see the basting stitch to the immediate left of the zipper foot (The glues is  a bit of a give away)

Step 9: repeat step 8 from the other side.

Step 10: Using your seam ripper and working from the top( right side) of the background fabric, rip out the basted stitch seam. Yes, there is glue in the seam. Yes, I know you don't like seam ripping. Yes, it's a lot of sewing for one little seam. I will however give you a little hint:  you might consider using a contrasting thread for the basting if you have trouble with ripping seams of closely matched thread/fabric. It does require threading and  then retreading your machine before step 8, but for some it makes this step a bit easier. And you only have to replace the top thread if you don't want to baste top and bobbin in a contrasting color. Even little bits help sometimes. 

Step 11: Take your fabric back to your ironing board. Mist the set in seam. Using a hot iron and a leap of faith,  gently pull the seam and glue apart and iron open. 
There will be bits of glue and tread stuck in the basted seam. Gently pick out the tread and after you are all done,  once your quilt is all pieced and quilted, wash your quilt and the glue will go away,
 until then pretend it's not there.. 

Step 12: At this point (after ironing and admiring you can trim the excess inset fabric from the back if you prefer. As you can see from the picture above the fabric shows through. So for some color combinations it is a good idea. Just be very careful when trimming.
trimming from behind, be careful not to cut top 

Step 13: Repeat as necessary, then  pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

With an inset seaming skill base  securely under your belt, there are several variations that can be done with very little adjustment.
  1. inset cording 
  2. inset flanges
  3. inset curved bias seams
  4. inset binding (peek below)
Because the inset seams are so striking I continued the visual impact through into the binding. I thank Christine (ccpquilt) for the show of support and great insight on working the binding with such tiny seams. 

Have fun with your new found skills!!!
Hopefully as I have projects that demonstrate the above variations I will blog about them here!


  1. Stephanie this looks amazing!! I'm definitely going to try it out! Thanks so much for sharing!!

  2. Very cool. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Stephanie!!! This is amazing. Thank you so much for posting this tutorial. I wish I'd been able to stay and watch at the guild meeting tonight, but this is so well-explained and clear that I think I've got it down! Definitely bookmarking and hope to try soon. Thanks again! -L

  4. This is brilliant! It is very much like how I learned to set in zippers many (many, many) years ago! Thanks for the great tutorial!

  5. Super cool - thanks for sharing!

  6. thanks so much for this tutorial! Definitely going to try it! i'm a little unclear on when you would use a bias strip, though - is this when you are going sideways? (btw, yours was one of my very faves at quiltcon -it's simply stunning in person!)

  7. Ooops just went back and re-read - it's for curved seams - thanks - can't wait to try it!

  8. Thanks for sharing your technique. Love the visual impact.

  9. Thank you for this tutorial! I came back here after I couldn't remember details from the DMMQG meeting, and the instructions are so clear. I love it!

  10. I'm about to make some improv electric towers and need to do some skinny piecing. I'm hoping this method will work!


If you don't speak up, I won't know what's in your mind…….