Quilting tip: Scant 1/4 inch

What is a “Scant 1/4 inch” and why is it important in quilting? This is my #1 Tip for accurate quilt piecing!

Piecing with a Scant 1/4″ seam allowance can make a huge difference in the accuracy and appearance of your finished quilt. Here’s what it is and why it matters. 

what is a scant 1/4" seam allowance

As you know, a 1/4″ seam allowance is the gold-standard in quilting.  Keeping your seam allowance consistent is an important key to good-looking quilts but using a scant 1/4″ seam is even better. Let me explain.

Typically lining up the edge of your fabric with the right side of your presser foot is a good guide for keeping your seam allowance consistent.  You can buy a specific quilter’s foot with a 1/4″ seam allowance for your machine (newer machines may come with one) but if you’re like me, I didn’t want to spend the extra money and it seemed close enough.  

Then I took a class from Leslie Ison where she explained how much more effective it is to use a scant 1/4″ when piecing – especially when you are piecing a more complex block.

Above is are two seams on either side of a drawn line. On the right I just used my regular presser foot with the needle centered. On the left I adjusted my needle one space to the right and still used my regular presser foot.

What is a Scant 1/4" seam allowance?

Here is the difference. On the right you can see that the seam allowance is actually slightly bigger than 1/4″ – it falls just outside the 1/4″ line on the ruler. On the left you can see that the seam lies just slightly inside the 1/4″ line. This, my friends, is a scant 1/4″.

The reason this makes a difference is that by the time you open up the pieces and fold one side over (when pressing seams to one side – which is what I recommend) you lose a little bit of fabric real estate, making the pieced blocks slightly smaller. Multiply that by numerous seams and a block can shrink as much as an 1/8 or 1/4 of an inch.

I frequently get emails where people are making one of my patterns and the block comes out too small. 99% of the time, their seam allowance is too wide.

Number one tip for accurate quilt piecing - scant 1/4 inch seam allowanceSo get out your ruler and measure your seam allowance.  Making adjustments may be as simple as moving your needle one notch to the right.  But this simple adjustment of sewing with a scant seam allowance will make a big difference in your piecing. Especially if you’re piecing smaller, detailed blocks.

Give it a whirl and let me know if it makes a difference for you.

Post Update: Big thanks to reader Barb in Ohio for sharing this helpful guide for getting the perfect scant 1/4″ seam allowance on any sewing machine: The Perfect Piecing Seam Guide* from Perkins Dry Goods. (Link also includes a video showing how it works.)

This is a perfect solution if you have a machine or foot where the needle can’t move. Thanks, Barb!

Check out more of my favorite quilting tips here.

There are so many smaller tricks, tips and techniques that will help with accuracy and make your quilt blocks look perfect!


*affiliate link

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  • Reply
    October 15, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    Nice of you to draw the &#39;scant&#39; to attention – I&#39;ve just recently started using it and is much more successful – very accurate!<br />Hugs – Lurline♥

    • Reply
      September 17, 2019 at 10:12 am

      Thank you for this. I am learning. ?

  • Reply
    October 15, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    This makes sense to me – amazing – I&#39;m gunna give it a go! Thanks for the tip!

  • Reply
    Crafty Newbie
    October 15, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    Thank you. I have always wondered what that meant. Being a new sewer, I&#39;ve never really had to come across anything that required it, but I have heard/read it in passing. :)<br /><br />You&#39;re so good to us! Thank you for sharing.

  • Reply
    October 15, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    Yep…it took me many years to figure that out…one little move of the needle over and it&#39;s amazing what a difference it makes!

  • Reply
    October 16, 2011 at 12:39 am

    Hrrrmmmppph. My needle doesn&#39;t move to the right. Just one giant step to the left for zippers and whatever else you sew all the way over there. I do have a 1/4&quot; foot, but I don&#39;t think I am as consistent with my seam allowance with it. But my regular foot is a little over 3/8&quot; seams… which ends up being really big! Hmmm… must find a new solution!

    • Reply
      October 2, 2013 at 7:28 am

      Measure out 1/4&quot; from your needle. Then place a piece of tape on your machine bed, so that guiding fabric along the edge of the tap ewill allow you to achieve a seam that is just slightly less than the 1/4&quot;.<br />

  • Reply
    Sew Create It - Jane
    October 16, 2011 at 2:15 am

    Excellent advice! Once I worked out the difference my piecing skilled improved 10 fold. Good piecing = a happy quilter :o)

  • Reply
    Ann Marie
    October 16, 2011 at 2:47 am

    This works out great because when you have to press, that scant part is the fold from the seam to the top over the seam allowance bulk. It works really really well when you have lots of points you don&#39;t want cut off as well.

  • Reply
    October 16, 2011 at 3:14 am

    I`ve just bought a new machine and the quilter`s kit came with a quarter inch foot – is this the same as a scant seam? Before, I used to use a line of masking tape on the machine as I wasn`t able to move the needle right or left.

    • Reply
      October 2, 2013 at 7:30 am

      No, chances are it will give you a regular 1/4&quot; seam or maybe even a bit more than that, just as the author of the blog found when she tried her&#39;s out. Just move your needle to the right a notch. That should do it. Move the needle over and test your 1/4&quot; foot with it. If you end up with just slightly less than 1/4&quot;, you will have the &#39;scant&#39; 1/4&quot; seam.

  • Reply
    Elisa Black
    October 16, 2011 at 4:13 am

    Thank you for this tip– I think its a great piece of advice that I&#39;m going to try!

  • Reply
    Katy Cameron
    October 16, 2011 at 4:44 am

    I discovered this recently (and actually have it on a post-it stuck to the machine, I&#39;m that much of a dork) and it works so well!

  • Reply
    October 16, 2011 at 5:13 am

    Thanks for this tip, I&#39;m just about to start working on a block for a block of the month and was reluctant because I didn&#39;t love home my Farmer&#39;s Wife blocks looked! Will definitely try this!

  • Reply
    October 16, 2011 at 6:06 am

    I have been sewing for about 45 years- but only quilting for about 4 months. Talk about the &quot;aha!&quot; moment…it never occurred to me to move the needle to get the scant 1/4 inch!! Thanks for the tip!

  • Reply
    October 16, 2011 at 6:23 am

    I have a 1/4&quot; foot that came with my machine and I couldn&#39;t live without it. It gives me the perfect seam allowance every time. For those who don&#39;t have one, it is definitely worth the investment.

    • Reply
      October 2, 2013 at 7:32 am

      Unless you move your needle position, it probably still will not be a &#39;scant&#39; 1/4&quot;. I used to figure that as long as I was consistent, it was OK. But using the scant 1/4&quot; seam really does make a difference.

  • Reply
    October 16, 2011 at 8:35 am

    My 1/4&quot; foot was only $5 — and well worth it because I can&#39;t move my needle either (a Janome mechanical). BUT . . . you have to check your seam regardless, because the first 1/4&quot; foot I bought was defective — nowhere NEAR a scant 1/4&quot;. I had to exchange it for one that was right.

  • Reply
    Lynn Brown
    October 16, 2011 at 9:29 am

    I SO wish I had known this before I started the quilt I&#39;m currently working on. I had no idea what it meant and was just eyeballing it, so now I&#39;ve got wonkiness. Thank you for clearing that up for me!

  • Reply
    October 16, 2011 at 10:17 am

    Thanks for this info! I used to use the right side of my foot, then I switched to the inside of the right side of my foot which was a 1/4 in. That&#39;ll be so much easier if I just move the needle. GENIUS!

  • Reply
    amy smart
    October 16, 2011 at 11:11 am

    @Annabella – I don&#39;t have a return email address to respond to your comment, so I&#39;m hoping you&#39;ll see it here:<br /><br />So nice that your machine came with a 1/4&quot; inch foot. I would just sew a seam and measure it with a ruler to check and see if it&#39;s a scant 1/4&quot;. If not, the masking tape is definitely another good option.

  • Reply
    October 16, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Thanks Amy! I love the idea of just moving my needle over a bit, instead of putting my fabric along a different seam line. Great idea!

  • Reply
    October 16, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    It&#39;s amazing how that smidge helps when you sew!! Good advice!!

  • Reply
    October 16, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    yes! this is genius!! I have a 1/4&quot; foot but I don&#39;t think it&#39;s genuine bernina because it doesn&#39;t fit my machine well and it&#39;s super slippery. I think i&#39;m going to ditch it and start doing this. you just changed my life!!<br /><br />PS – do you have an Bliss laying around?

  • Reply
    October 16, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    I think you just solved all my problems and made all of my wildest dreams come true. Move the needle! *smacks forehead* Now why didn&#39;t I think of that? (&#39;cause I&#39;m not you, that&#39;s why!) THANK YOU!

  • Reply
    October 16, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    My blocks are always much more accurate if I use a scant 1/4&quot; — I love it!

  • Reply
    L'amore del fare
    October 17, 2011 at 1:28 am

    Only yesterday the exhibition of the hobby of Rome, I discovered the basics of quilters. It &#39;nice to see how much passion and love are created these masterpieces. Congratulations you are very good! I follow you always with pleasure. Hello!

  • Reply
    October 17, 2011 at 7:59 am

    You know, I have read so many blogs that talk about using a 1/4&quot; seams and I really didn&#39;t get it until I saw your visual. I had been trying to figure out exactly where is the scant? lol Thanks for the visual!

  • Reply
    October 18, 2011 at 8:40 am

    Wow, I just had an &#39;aha&#39; moment. I&#39;ve heard people talk about scant 1/4&quot; seams but never really got it. Thanks so much for the visual, that&#39;s exactly what I needed!

  • Reply
    October 18, 2011 at 10:04 am

    Thanks for sharing this! I know that&#39;s it&#39;s better to use a scant 1/4&quot;, but it never occured to me how simple it would be to achieve it. duh.

  • Reply
    October 18, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Thanks for the tip- I&#39;m going to measure mine and see how accurate it is.

  • Reply
    Sarah Kay
    October 18, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    THANK YOU!! I spent SO much time last quilt measuring twice over and STILL not having the seam allowances right. I can&#39;t wait to try this tip!

  • Reply
    October 18, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    OMG!!! I&#39;m so glad I read this before I started my new project… it&#39;s my 3rd quilt and I did as best I could with the first two… just wanted to tell you that I&#39;m 2 blocks in and I can tell the difference in how the pieces are going to fit together. Thanks for the explanation and hint… although my needle only moves to the left so I feel backwards. :o)

  • Reply
    October 19, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    You know, I&#39;ve been quilting for 6 years and it took going to the Summit for me to FINALLY measure it up and resign myself to adjusting my needle position every time I turn on my machine to get the scant 1/4&quot;. WHAT a Difference!! Funny you should post this like 3 days after I finally saw the light!

  • Reply
    October 19, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    Thank you for the visual! I have a new Janome that comes with a 1/4&quot; foot. I checked it before I started a new quilt &amp; still is bigger than a 1/4&quot; if I go by the guide. I had to move my needle over to the right &amp; I&#39;m going by the 1/4&quot; mark on by extension table for right now.

  • Reply
    October 22, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    Thanks for the tip! I&#39;ve been using the edge of my foot and some of my blocks aren&#39;t turning out correctly. Maybe this will help me.

  • Reply
    October 25, 2011 at 10:01 am

    It&#39;s good to hear you say this Amy! I recently realized that my Singer&#39;s 1/4&quot; measurement is more than that! I&#39;m working on the Swoon quilt right now and find my HST aren&#39;t quite large enough so I&#39;ll definitely be switching to the scant measurement. Thanks!

  • Reply
    January 19, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    I just found this and wanted to thank you so much for explaining it so perfectly … I didn&#39;t even know I could move my needle! Now I know the exact number to program it to to get the perfect seam!

  • Reply
    Marie Atkinson
    October 16, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Excellent advice! I have used a scant 1/4&quot; for years and it does make a difference.

  • Reply
    July 8, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    Thank you for this explanation. I have been quilting for about a month, sewing forever and a day. I have a brand-new Singer H74 (bought on clearance for a song) and it came with every foot in the catalog, including a 1/4″ piecing foot. My question is, if the thing is intended for piecing, and everyone in the industry knows a SCANT 1/4″ is the gold standard, then why is a Quilter’s Piecing Foot set to a NON-scant 1/4″? If I use it, I get a regular 1/4″. Because it has a tiny hole in the middle, I’m leery of shifting the needle a notch to the right. I’m sure the high-end Janomes and Berninas have exact scant 1/4″ feet, but WHY don’t they make a piecing foot the right size? Irritating and mind-boggling, and my first two toppers are a scant bit too small because I did not KNOW this.

    • Reply
      Amy Smart
      July 8, 2017 at 5:27 pm

      I’m totally with you on this! If it’s any help, my 1/4″ foot is a straight stitch hole as well, but I am able to move the needle over just slightly. Check it manually (using the the knob on the side of your machine to drop the needle, not the pedal) just to check it out.

  • Reply
    Jeanne Berry
    July 11, 2017 at 8:30 am

    Thanks, Amy. After much experimentation, I’ve found that if I use my all-purpose foot, line up the fabric with the edge of that, use a 4×4 ruler as my “guide”, and move my needle position to 6.0, I get that scant 1/4 AND a straighter seam to boot. (Who wold have thought that getting the right seam allowance would–so far–be the hardest part about quilting?)

  • Reply
    Beth Aitken
    January 1, 2018 at 3:29 am

    Thanks for the great teaching tip. It is saving me from binning my work….Beth

  • Reply
    July 14, 2018 at 2:55 am

    That’s an important tip. However not all machines can move the needle to the right of center. Most quarter inch feet give you an exact 1/4 or even more. None of my current machines can move the needle one notch. Mine either don’t move at all or are limited to center, left and right options. It’s time for manufacturers of machine feet to make them a scant 1/4 inch with needle in center position.

  • Reply
    July 14, 2018 at 3:28 am

    Use your blind stitch foot and turn the wheel until you get your scant 1/4″ . I bought a second one, set it and then glued the screw so it wouldn’t move.

  • Reply
    New quilter
    November 7, 2018 at 12:35 pm

    I have a VERY basic machine. I tape a thin piece of cardboard on the plate to keep my seams consistent at ¼”. But every time I sew jelly roll strips together I get a 1 ⅞ strip, not 2”. I’ll try to adjust so I get a scant ¼”. Thank you for the info. This should help.

  • Reply
    Teresa Thrush
    May 2, 2019 at 12:07 pm

    This makes more sense instead of using a #10 sewing needle and 60wt. thread to achieve the elusive scant 1/4″ stitch. There’s so much information about this stitch but this one post makes it clear and easy to understand (with pictures) why and how to do it! Thanks so much for posting this!

  • Reply
    Phyllis Jones
    June 22, 2019 at 8:39 pm

    Thanks for this great tip Amy! This is something I have struggled with for years and this will be a great help

  • Reply
    June 22, 2019 at 9:45 pm

    Since I use my walking foot to piece I have to use a point on my plate and move my needle but I’ve been quilting for almost 50 years and learned on my own about scant 1/4″ measurements. This tip will help a lot of pieces find accuracy so thanks. Enjoy your posts.

  • Reply
    June 24, 2019 at 2:42 pm

    measure over with one of your rulers and put a piece of tape there and go by that line. or you can buy sick on seam guides

    • Reply
      June 25, 2019 at 1:07 pm

      Yes- that’s a great way to do it.

  • Reply
    June 24, 2019 at 8:56 pm

    Wouldn’t you think with all the modern technology and expensive machines they could tool a scant 1/inch foot?

    • Reply
      June 25, 2019 at 1:08 pm

      You’d think, right? 🙂

  • Reply
    June 24, 2019 at 9:27 pm

    That works, but even easier than a piece of tape: tape a card at the “scant 1/4” measurement – something the thickness of a credit card if you have it. It’ll physically rather than just visually guide the fabric.

    • Reply
      June 25, 2019 at 1:08 pm

      Yes! Great suggestion

  • Reply
    June 25, 2019 at 1:06 pm

    Why not just cut with the full ruler line on the fabric so you can use your 1/4″ foot without having to play with needle position? That’s what I do. Once you move the needle over, you often need to change out your foot and you can’t use a single hole throat plate. Plus, you have a teensy little extra fabric in your seam which means the seams are less likely to rip out over time.

  • Reply
    Ruth Caisse
    July 31, 2019 at 8:11 pm

    Not all machines presser feet are 1/4” with the needle in the center position. I have a janome 6600 and I have to adjust my needle to 6.0 for a scant 1/4” or 5.0 for a 1/4” seam. I do have a 1/4” presser foot with the guide and I still have to move the needle over to 5.0 – 6.0. I don’t know why…….. can you help?

    • Reply
      August 1, 2019 at 1:00 pm

      I don’t know that I can help with your specific machine without seeing it – every machine is different. Just play with the foot and the needle settings, running test seams and measuring them to make sure you get the desired scant 1/4″ seam for your machine. Just takes a little tweaking.

  • Reply
    April 12, 2020 at 7:27 pm

    Thank you for posting this great suggestion. I never thought of it. Also, others posted suggestions and thank you to them also.

  • Reply
    Rhonda Mullins
    November 8, 2020 at 1:39 pm

    I’m confused about the scant thing. Is the scant the line u draw or the move of the needle? I’m not a learner by words and dont understand them alot. Im more hands on learner.

    • Reply
      November 9, 2020 at 2:54 pm

      The measurement of the seam allowance is the distance from the seam (stitching) to the edge of the fabric (or drawn line). You want it to be just slightly narrower than a 1/4″.

  • Reply
    February 1, 2021 at 12:43 am

    My Janome needle doesn’t move, and my quarter inch foot is just that, exactly 1/4 inch. Plus the thin metal ‘blade’ that lines up to the edge of the fabric bends outwards over time, another interesting lesson. However, my all-purpose foot is partially clear plastic, and I have drawn a Sharpie line on it to show *exactly* where to line up the fabric for a scan 1/4 inch.

    • Reply
      February 1, 2021 at 11:34 am


  • Reply
    February 1, 2021 at 11:35 am

    I read this article and now I am confused. I have never used “scant” unless I am sewing a block from a drawn template, that was drawn with a pencil.

    I was taught the reason for a scant has to do with how sharp the pencil lead is. Meaning, keeping the lead sharp. A dull lead makes a wider line, and you will have to use guess work to decide where the needle is placed on the line. That guess work is scant.

    When the rotary cutter and rulers all but eliminated the inaccuracies that a pencil lead caused, the only thing that a piece quilter needed to learn was how the rotary cutter’s ruler is used, or placed on the fabric. The placement inaccuracies of the ruler dictates where the accurate 1/4 inch seam allowance line is.

    I have tried to remember to press the seam allowance to one side. But this bulky seam fabric makes quilting extremely difficult, and painful if you are hand quilting. And a lot of long arm sewing machine quilters find that bulky seam causes irregular quilting stitches. So, I continue to press my seams open.

    I am planning to read your entire blog. It’s very interesting.

  • Reply
    February 2, 2021 at 6:10 pm

    I believe this is one of the most important gems of quilter knowledge. I am pretty new to quilting and couldn’t understand why my blocks were not the right size. I was so frustrated. I bought some seam guide tape and it has helped quite a bit. Your explanation made me go “aha”. I get it now. I will try to make scant quarter inch my new sewing mantra!

    • Reply
      February 3, 2021 at 2:16 pm

      I’m so glad it helped!

  • Reply
    Taos Sunflower Martie
    February 3, 2021 at 10:22 am

    Thanks for this, Amy. I made a real mess out of the Delilah blocks in a QAL a couple of years ago and I am pretty sure this is a big part of what happened.

  • Reply
    February 3, 2021 at 11:41 am

    Thanks for the post! We should create a SCANT 1/4” foot!!

  • Reply
    February 3, 2021 at 7:28 pm

    Ummmm, here I am asking for and receiving a 1/4 inch foot for Christmas and all I needed to do was move that needle. It was like a light bulb moment and I feel quite silly for not thinking of it. Thanks for the amazing tip.

  • Reply
    March 1, 2021 at 8:11 pm

    Thank you so much! I’m a new quilter and have been wondering why my blocks are “off.”
    I found that adjusting my needle to 1.3 on my new Viking gives me an accurate 1/4” seam when I compare it to my Omnigrip ruler. Can’t wait to try it on my next block.

    • Reply
      March 2, 2021 at 7:12 pm


  • Reply
    May 1, 2021 at 11:54 am

    Thank you for this post. I am working on a quilt that basically all HST and I noticed my seams are wonky when I was cutting the 8 at a time blocks down. I am going to go back and recheck my seams before pressing and squaring up my blocks, using a scant 1/4″.

  • Reply
    July 4, 2021 at 11:49 am

    I just made a quilt top and was shooting for scant 1/4″ but many of my seams are even smaller. Some are as scant as 1/8inch. I plan to do a quilt design that is rather tight and hoping that the quilt does not fray apart on the first washing.

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