Can a few “low tech” office supplies help you get a good quarter inch seam with your sewing machine? They sure can! Many sewing machine brands have a quarter inch presser foot available. They’re great too. But if you have the time to work through this exercise with your kids–and yourself–you’ll be amazed at the accuracy you can achieve.

You’ll need some index cards, a stack of small sticky notes, some blue painter’s tape, a ruler, and your sewing machine.

We’ve been encouraging kids to sew “thread-less” on paper. Now it’s time to introduce sewing with thread. We’re still sewing on paper but now it’s an index card. The lines on index cards are a quarter inch apart. They’re perfect for training the eye to recognize this important measurement.

Demonstrate how to 1.) always put the top thread between the toes of the presser foot and draw it back to join the bobbin thread. Show them how to 2.) grasp both threads and pull out a long tail of threads toward the back of the machine. Next, have them 3.) grasp both threads with their left hand and hold them together while lowering the presser foot with their left hand. Teach them to 4.) hold the thread tight or press them against the surface of the machine with their left hand as they begin to take the first stitch.

These four steps are essential to learning how a sewing machine operates regardless of how sophisticated your machine is. Practicing them over and over while stitching down the lines on an index card is the best training you can offer a beginner. Learning to this do automatically, at the beginning of any line of stitching, will serve them well for a lifetime of pleasant sewing…and save hours of frustration and stress from re-threading the machine and clearing jams.

At the end of a line a stitching, pull out a long tail of threads. Teach kids to clip threads close to the end of the stitching line. This keeps their work neat and eliminates the need to clip them again later.

Clip that long tail of threads from the start of the stitching line too. Note the small blunted scissors. Using smaller scissors at the machine is easiest for kids to manage.

Now, we’re ready to start the accurate quarter inch seam exercise. Actually, it’s not a quarter inch seam. It’s a “scant” quarter inch seam. That means it’s a little bit smaller than a true quarter inch–just a tiny bit. That little bit allows space for the thickness of the fabric to bend over as the seam is pressed to the side. This little distance has an old-fashioned name. It’s called the “turn of the cloth.” It may be old-fashioned but it’s still very important. Let’s get started!

Place a clear ruler along the bottom line of a new index card. Move it so just the line is visible. Using a rotary cutter, carefully cut off the bottom edge of the card, including the line. You now have a scant quarter inch on the bottom edge of your index card.

NOTE: all rotary cutting should be done by an adult in this exercise and with all Row by Row Junior patterns.

Place the card under your presser foot and drop your needle right through the printed line as shown.

Align the card so it’s coming straight towards you from the needle. Place a piece of blue painter’s tape right next to the edge of the card as shown.

The blue painter’s tape makes a line you can use to guide your fabric under the presser foot. You could stop here. But having a raised edge to butt your fabric against is a better guide. This is where the stack of sticky notes comes in.

Separate off about an 1/8″ thick section of notes.

Remove the painter’s tape guide and press the sticky edge of the 1/8″ note stack along the edge of the card.

Use the blue tape to hold down the sticky stack so it stays secure. Remove the card from under the needle. You now have a scant quarter inch seam guide ready to use for any project. In Part 2, we’ll test the accuracy of our guide on fabric. Find Part 2 here.

Our Row by Row Junior mission:

We want to enhance your Row by Row Experience with “kid friendly” educational materials that foster the love of fabric and machine sewing, strengthen inter-generational family relationships, and support local quilt shops everywhere.”

Kids can!  All they need is opportunity, practice, a few good tools, and a willing adult.  

Let us know how you like Row by Row Junior.  Share your experiences with us.  Leave a comment below.

Jeannette Kitlan, your Row by Row Junior author and designer.