binding, quarter inch seam, quilt binding by machine, Quilting, scant 1/4" seam, scant quarter inch seam

Pieces of Eight

Have you read Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson? My girls and I read it over the holidays. It was thrilling! The adventure starts running on page one and doesn’t stop until the breathless end. Another reminder that classic books are classic for a reason.

For those of you who haven’t had the good fortune to read the book, the premise is this: young Jim Hawkins, son of an innkeeper, becomes the reluctant friend of an old pirate who stays at the inn. The salty ol’ pirate is hiding something, and upon the pirate’s untimely end, Jim finds that something. A treasure map, complete with an X marking the spot! Adventure ensues as Jim and his friends attempt to find the treasure and evade the sneaky pirates who follow (i.e. Long John Silver and friends).

I loved reading Treasure Island. It was a little bit like reading a pirate dictionary. Since I happen to enjoy speaking like a pirate from time to time, it was a real treat to learn what the pirate sayings meant. For example, The Black Spot (a promise of death), Son of a Biscuit Eater (definitely an insult – guess they were low-carb folks), and my favorite – Pieces of Eight (Spanish dollar coins).

I suppose you could say that I am a pirate parrot of sorts. Particularly when I quilt. What? You don’t also curse like a pirate when you quilt? Well – you must be doing something wrong. 🙂

Just kidding, of course. I’m much more likely to mumble, “pieces of eight, pieces of eight” like Long John Silver’s parrot, Captain Flint. That’s because those 1/8″ measurements used in quilting can test my patience. And my eyesight. And yet, I’ve found them particularly useful. In fact, you could say that those pieces of eight led me to discover a treasure of my own: the scant quarter inch seam.

I’ve read about the scant quarter inch seam, how using it will improve the accuracy of your quilt piecing because it accounts for the thickness of the thread in the seam. I’ve read it, tried it, but wasn’t really impressed. Maybe it’s because I stick to relatively easy-to-piece patterns. At any rate, I haven’t worried about it much.


I had a lovely customer who requested binding services, and she had gone to the trouble to cut the binding pieces for me. It was so thoughtful, truly. But when I went to sew them to the finished quilt, they were only 2″ wide.

Yikes! the dreaded narrow binding. As I wrote in my post Bindings Revisited a few months ago, for machine finishing of bindings, I much prefer a wider strip. The reason? When you sew the binding strip on with the standard quarter inch seam, you need at least 2 1/2″ of binding width to fold over to them back so you can easily “catch” the edge of the binding when you finish by stitching in the ditch along the front.

I’ve found that even with a 2 1/2″ strip, you can often miss the edge in the back. So I started using wider strips.

So now – I had a customer quilt with those dreaded, too narrow, binding strips. What to do? There wasn’t enough fabric to cut more. I decided to sew the strips on with about a 1/8″ seam allowance. But I was worried that 1/8″ wasn’t a wide enough strip to secure the binding to the quilt. I decided to test it.

I stopped after the first few inches, wrapped the 2″ strip around, and you know what? It wrapped around perfectly. AND it appeared as though it would overlap the stitching with just enough room for me to catch the edge when I finished by stitching in the ditch from the front.

ARRRRR, Matey! Shiver me timbers! Who knew I could make narrow binding work, just by using a smaller seam allowance?

But I still worried about that narrow seam. A 1/8″ inch seam is just so dangerously close to the edge of the fabric. It seemed foolhardy to try and make it work.

As I sewed, I mumbled, “pieces of eight, pieces of eight.” I went over the test area again, edging closer to a 1/4″ seam. About 1/8″ plus 1/16″ – or 1.5/8.” This width of seam also worked! There was still just enough overlap. Blimey!

The lightbulb finally flipped on for me while I was thinking about the measurements, and I realized that 1.5/8″ is a scant quarter inch seam!

Forgive me if I seem dense, but all I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a-plenty) about the scant quarter inch seam was that is was slightly less than a quarter inch. If those directions had defined a scant quarter inch as 1/8″ plus 1/16″ or 3/16″ or even 1.5/8″ – well, I’d have been using it a long time ago.

In this case, realizing that the seam I was using for the binding was actually a time honored and much used seam allowance made me feel much better about the security of the binding, an off I went. As you can see from the pictures, it worked out quite well. It’s also got me thinking more flexibly about binding widths – I love the look of a narrow binding.

I guess it’s back to the drawing board for me on bindings! I love the discovery aspects of quilting, don’t you? It may not be as exciting as hunting for buried treasure with Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins, but it’s enough for me.

Happy winter!

2 thoughts on “Pieces of Eight”

  1. Well, that was very informative!!! Everyone kept telling me to use a scant quarter inch but no one said what it actually was. I’ve been banging my head against the wall for years and using blue words along the way. Yes, I swear too when I quilt. There’s no underage people in my house so it’s ok. Loved Treasure Island and the second time when reading it with my children as well. I think there is a little pirate in all of us. 😉 Thanks for sharing the information.

    Liked by 1 person

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