Who says a seam allowance has to be 1/4 inch and WHY?

It seems [or seams] I started a lively discussion on the Quiltart mail list when I posted how disappointed I was with an art quilt program on PBS yesterday morning. I really expected to have a lot of opposing opinions and made it known that I had my flame proof undies on. What a pleasant surprise to find that the majority of responders either publicly or privately agreed with my assessment.

But of course, all good things change and this morning we  have people making comments who haven’t read the conversation from the beginning and are taking many things said out of context. To jump into a conversation that way is sort of like being a teenager without all the knowledge of years’ of learning to get there.

I was and still am disappointed that  an art venue devoted so much time to matchy-matchy fabric packets and how to construct a perfect quarter inch seam as well as the ***correct**** way to press.  Truth be told, that nasty seam rule has bugged me for a long time and I don’t think any creative person should live by rules that really have no basis and that continues to be perpetuated by the quilt police.

Here is how and why I think this ever became a rule.  When quilts of all kinds were made to keep us warm they had to hold up to laundering or airing on the line with prairie winds whipping them about. Too small of a seam might come apart. Too large of a seam used too much precious fabric and it made it difficult to hand quilt through so many layers. So I can envision finding a seam allowance that was just right.

If you study vintage quilts and antiques, you will find all measurements of seam allowances whether they are pieced by hand or by machine.  Have you ever tried to put together a quilt with blocks from many different piecers? Each of them will be off but the maker will swear they are a perfect 1/4 inch seam…even if they used the same ruler!! Oh my, how could that be? Did one use the left side of the ruler line and the other used the right side of the line? Did one use a Bernina, another a Pfaff and yet another a Singer? What about thread and needles, could that make a difference?

The part of this equation that I always taught my students many years ago when I had a quilt shop is ***consistency***.  Whatever measurement you use, be consistent if it matters in the final product. Matching points and seams need a consistent seam allowance so the puzzle fits together.  It doesn’t always matter, folks. Who really cares if your seam is a little bigger than 1/4 inch in an art quilt? It might matter in a garment and sure would matter if you cut all your fabric before you started construction of a quilt using someone else’s pattern...and that pattern maker drafted the pattern for a specific seam allowance.And do you know what? Many of my students went on to win big quilt show awards. Nobody took their quilt apart and measured their seam allowance. Even I have gone on to win awards and not one judging comment ever said my seam allowance or pressing was off. Imagine!!

Like most of our American lives, a retail industry is dictating how quilters do what they do! It would throw the entire industry into a tail spin if this rule wasn’t followed. Just think of the products that wouldn’t be sold: quarter inch tape, tiger tape, seam bars, quarter inch machine attachments, templates and on and on.  People overseas would loose their jobs!

My post never was about denigrating the quilt magazine industry as some people suggested. It was about respect for who we are as art quilters. I respect traditionalists and their magazines/how-to shows. If I want to brush up my construction skills and feel it is needed for a specific project, there are multitudes of magazines out there to choose from. I simply expect anything with the name “Art” in the title to be a step above the quilt police.

Final thoughts? If it isn’t going to be hung on a line to whip in the wind or laundered to death the way I press a seam [if there is one] and the width of that seam has absolutely nothing to do with the way I construct my art. That my friends, is as relevant as telling me my brush strokes of a painting are too big or too small even though the end result is just right.

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4 thoughts on “Who says a seam allowance has to be 1/4 inch and WHY?

  1. Ah yes, letting our freak flag fly! :)Power to the People, girlies!Honestly, if THEY were happy with how we sew, I think we'd rightfully be rattled. I was labelled as "scissors happy" in seventh grade home ec, and was ashamed of that scorn from Miss Rogers for a while. Eventually though, it became a badge of courage.I tell my students to sew in a way that their work will hold together well, and otherwise, break all the rules they want to break. This is about art, not about home ec.This was written to the sound effects of my dog Libby gnashing away at a huge cow knuckle bone. 🙂 Peace, Lucky

  2. Those who judge others are usually the ones who need to make superior type comments to make themselves feel superior – so sad they lack self confidence in themselves. Art is expression in any media. And even if I make a 'traditional' quilt – HOW I make it, is my business. If someone doesn't like the finished look – don't look at it!

  3. Who needs seams at all? I started raveling and overlapping edges on my art quilts a loooong time ago, and purposely leaving dangling (gasp) thread tails, too. And it feels good to let my batting show sometimes.

  4. I stopped my subscription when I realized that I had issues that still had the plastic mailing wrap, unopened. I think the magazine has a place for people who need a crutch, but I had moved on. I have never seen the tv show.

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