Creative articles about quilting

Smart Corners with patchwork and paper piecing

When working with paper piecing Units or traditional patchwork, in the end Units or pieces have to be sewn together while assembling the quilt. The seam allowances are often 1/4 inch wide. Working by machine, you don’t need to draw a sewing line, when working with a special Patchwork presser foot. With your BERNINA machine, you can use Patchwork foot#97D with the BERNINA 770QE or different types of BERNINA machines. Working foot wide = distance right side of the presser foot to your needle for an accurate seam allowance.  Sewing on the printed side of a paper piecing = working on the solid line, but without the paper, there is no indication to sew. By using the special presser foot, you will get the right width of 1/4 inch seam allowance. 

You can also use a Patchwork foot with guide: #57 or #57D (D = Dual Feed): hold the flexible guide against the side of the fabrics, while the needle makes stitches at 1/4 inch distance.  

Placing fabrics right side up and sewing with squares, rectangles or strips makes it easy, because all corners are 90° and will fit. Gluing (or pinning) the corners first, working along the edges, is easy.

But sewing with corners that are different, smaller than 90° or larger than 90° is something else. You often think your fabrics or Units are well placed, but when turning the fabrics to the right side and opening it all, often the corners are shifted, or protrude, which makes it difficult for it all to fit.

It is better to use Smart Corners, and if you are lucky, they are already there with your patterns. The paper piecing Unit, shown above, has such Smart Corners. I have cut the paper along the sides/edges of the seam allowances straight, just to show you how it often is done with regular patterns. But these papers give you the best corners, by cutting along the solid lines on the edges of the corners: the left corner has to be cut back one small piece, the right corner two pieces.  

By cutting them I am sure the fabrics or Units will fit, placing them corner to corner.

The difference between ‘regular’ patchwork or paper piecing and well-executed patterns is shown above: four groups of 2 drawings will give you an idea about ‘standard’ corners and Smart Corners. 

  • The first group: to the left a corner of 90°, as they occur in squares, rectangles and strips. If the same shape is placed on top of that, its ok, but with a different shape with a sharp corner on top, there is no way to find the 1/4 inch line. To the right a Smart Corner with the same shape, prepared for the next piece of fabric or Unit with the 1/4 inch seam allowance already visible, because of the cut corner.
  • The second group: to the left a sharp corner along a curved line. To the right the same, but with a Smart Corner.
  • The third group: left a really sharp corner, smaller than 90°. right the same, with a Smart Corner. 
  • The fourth group: left a corner larger than 90°, right the same, with a Smart Corner. 

Working with Smart Corners.

Placing Units together, while assembling groups to make the fop of the Dinner Plate Dahlia Wall quilt, was easier because of the Smart Corners. I have torn the paper away from the Unit to work with fabric pieces only, no sewing line available. 

It is a quilt with lots of curves, no straight lines except for a few, and with that almost no 90° corners. Units are placed right sides together and sewn from corner to corner: concave and convex, which looks difficult but is ok, using – again – the Smart Corners. I don’t pin, but use my  Bohin Glue pen on the seam allowances. Starting from the corners, or at Reference points, which have to match. 

It is so frustrating, starting at a corner, working your way to the other corner, to find out it doesn’t fit. But my patchwork is OK: I have circled the matching corners: they are perfectly aligned. Preparing corners before sewing will turn even the most difficult patchwork into an easy job. 

The piece of fabric above is no paper piecing unit, so no sewing lines are visible. Again, I will not draw sewing lines, but work with my patchwork foot. The Smart Corner – upper left – is prepared and ready to be placed on top of a different piece of fabric to match. 

This is how it is done: corners matching, set with a dab of glue. 

The rest of the fabric is glued along the edges too. 

To show you where the sewing line should be, I have drawn it on the picture above (not on the fabrics). In the circle, previous sewn Unit and fabric match at the corners. 

A piece of fabric is placed on top of the Unit, matching corners and Reference Points = RP’s (arrow). Such a Reference Point can be made with basting stitches, but sometimes I will make a very small cut in the edges instead. So not just the Smart Corners are matched, but also the RP’s, when indicated. It is better to place a couple of RP’s on long curves, to be able to reduce the distance from point to point, or from corner to point and have it all fit.  

I am following the directions of my pattern, placing multiple Units on top of each other, before bringing them to my sewing machine. 

Working with my patchwork foot #97D and a 1/4 inch seam allowance.

Another example of Smart Corners: there is no easier way to match the corners. 

Groups of Units and fabric pieces are sewn together. No pins, just the Bohin glue, works fine for me. 

Piling up, until the required number of groups are ready, putting them aside until other Units or groups of Units and fabrics are ready for further assembly. 

By following directions, two groups are ready. Next time I will show you how I’ve assembled the entire quilt top. See you then! 


Happy Quilting!
Sylvia Kaptein
Sylvia’s Art Quilts Studio

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  • Jill Hebda

    I’m working on the wedding ring quilt in in the first picture.  I was completely mystified by the term “smart corners,” except that I thought it sounded great!  This is very clear and helpful–thank you!

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