Tutorial: Skinny Strips and Inset Seaming for the 2019 QuiltCon Charity Challenge

The call for 2019 QuiltCon charity quilts is twin-sized group quilts in a specific colourway (above) using this year’s theme, small piecing. The guild that I am a part of, the Maritime Modern Quilt Guild, will be submitting a quilt and we will incorporate the theme in two ways: Improv skinny strip sets and “inset seaming” (itty bitty ~1/8″ insets!). First, we will make strip “slabs” and secondly, we’ll inset them into a block. This tutorial is geared specifically to the charity are making as a guild, but of course, feel free to try out this technique on your own.

MMQGers: Each participant will make four blocks, all with the same background colour. The blocks will have 1, 2, 3, and 4 inset seams respectively. We will use the leftover strip slabs in the final composition of the quilt, so please hand those in along with your completed blocks. Please have your blocks handed in by September’s MMQG meeting: Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018.

Stephanie Ruyle of Spontaneous Threads is the authority of the topic of “inset seaming” in quilting and here is what she says:
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).”

I have my own instructions below that are specific to this quilt, but Stephanie’s tutorial is a great reference if you need another set of instructions to wrap your head around the technique.

Skinny strip slabs and inset seams

Yields 4 blocks, 8 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ unfinished

Fabric requirements
  • (4) 10 1/2″ x 9″ background fabric for blocks a single (your choice). This is roughly one fat quarter divided into 4 quarters.
  • (16-18) 18″ long strips of the remaining palette colours in solid fabrics, ranging from 3/4″ to 1 1/2″ in width
  • Spray starch (optional)
  • Disappearing fabric marker (optional)
  • Seam ripper, a key tool for inset seaming!
  • Washable glue stick
  • Zipper foot
  • Standard straight stitch foot
Making Skinny Strip Slabs
  1. Lay out your strips in whatever order you want.
  2. Piece them together. Press in one direction. Don’t worry if the strips are a bit wonky or if the slab is not quite rectangular. Use starch to make your strips and seams lay flat. Your final “slab” will need to be at least 9″ wide. Keep adding strips until you’ve reached a 9″ width.

Cut the Inset Fabric

The strip slab is now your “inset fabric”. Cut (10) 1″ strips.

Inset Seaming

Each block will have 1, 2, 3, and 4  inset seams going in one direction only. We will not cross the inset seams for this design. They do not have to be parallel, but most all go from one side to the opposite side.

  1. Orient your rectangle horizontally. Draw a vertical-ish line where you want your inset seam to go (marking it is optional – you can just wing it in Step 2).
  2. Fold and press along that line.

  1. With the longest stitch available on your machine and a 1/4″ seam allowance, baste a line along the folded edge. Err on the side of a generous 1/4″ seam allowance rather than a scant 1/4″.

  1. Slice the fold off. We want to remove the fold without removing much fabric.
  2. Press the seam open.

  1. Apply a line of glue (gluestick or preferred glue basting technique) on the opened part of the seam allowance. Try to keep the glue away from the centre basted seam. (Trust me, the glue will be revealed if it’s sloppy and although it’s not too obvious to the eye, it’s a bit crusty to the touch!)

  1. Place your 1″ inset fabric on top of the glued seam, face down. Iron from both sides to set it in place.

  1. Install your your zipper foot. And reset your stitch length to normal.
  2. Flip the right side of the background fabric to the left (see images below). You will be sewing through one layer of the striped inset and one layer of the background fabric. The basting stitch should be to your left.

  1. Using your zipper foot, sew a line parallel and close to the the basted seam. The distance basted seam and this line is about half the width of your inset. No need to be fastidious with this measurement for these blocks; we’re just aiming for skinny, no specific width.

  1. Repeat on the other side of the basted seam.

This is what the back looks like when both sides of the inset seam are complete.

  1. And now the fun part! Place your block face up. Use your seam ripper and carefully remove the basting stitches.
  2. Pull the seam and glue apart and iron open with the help of some steam. There might be glue in the seam, which will wash out later on.

  1. Repeat for each additional inset seam in the block, making sure they’re all running the same direction but not necessarily parallel. Once you feel comfortable with the technique, batch each step together to avoid having to change stitch lengths and and presser feet constantly.
  2. Trim your block to 8 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ square.

Have fun!

4 thoughts on “Tutorial: Skinny Strips and Inset Seaming for the 2019 QuiltCon Charity Challenge

  1. debbie says:

    I love the idea of this technique. I’ve seen it done without the basting step, but I believe this will help keep the square from it’s tendency to get wonky. I have so many left over solids from jelly rolls that I have kept because I hate to throw them away. This is a perfect idea for using them up.

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