Sewing without Pencil Lines

After having spent the better part of last month writing patterns, and with the first clue in our Gathering Mystery QAL coming in just under two months, I thought that the next few weeks presented the perfect opportunity to share with you some of my favorite constructions tips and techniques, and even a few tools that I can’t live without. For all of our new friends, I’m hoping this will also give you a chance to get to know me a bit, and to get a feel for how I write my patterns and construct my quilts.  

My love for modern, mosaic-inspired quilt designs that have just a dash of fair-isle knitting pizzazz thrown in means that I typically have to be a bit creative with some of my building blocks to get these unique shapes to come together in fabric form.  When I sit down to write a pattern, I typically have two goals:

  • Putting blocks together without the use of templates and specialty rulers (unless they are absolutely unavoidable),  paper-piecing, or applique.  For the most part, I’d love for you to be able to download my pattern, grab some fabric from your stash, and just start sewing.
  • Finding the fastest, but more importantly, most accurate ways to assemble the blocks.

In general, I’m not a huge fan of short-cuts, since I find that I tend to make more mistakes and I’m generally not as happy with the quality of my piecing when I rush.  I am a big fan, however, of sewing smarter, so this week, I want to chat about the Sewing without Pencil Lines.

I’m feeling like almost every single one of the patterns I currently have in production – including our mystery quilt –  uses that dreaded phrase, “… with a fabric pencil, draw a diagonal line on the wrong side of XX number of squares …”

Do you cringe when you read that?  Truth be told, I cringe every single time I write it … but this is the “traditional” method and so I continue to use it.  I’m hoping, though, that after today, you’ll throw the pencil in the trash, knowing that there is an easier way!


A word of warning … I usually only use this method with seams that are under about 5″ or so.  Any bigger than that and I bite the bullet … errr, pencil … and draw the lines.


Ok … the easiest way to ditch the pencil is to put a fixed sewing guide on the bed of your machine to help you line up the farthest point of your fabric with the needle, thus helping you sew a straight line in between.

Now, some of you might have super fancy sewing machines that have a built in laser guide to allow you to do this – which sounds amazing and {almost} makes me want to go buy a new sewing machine!!!  My trusty workhorse, however, is not that fancy, and so I use the next best thing:

This baby is Quilt in a Day’s Sew Straight guide.  It has a center stitching line that you line up with your needle, and the whole piece of plastic sticks to the machine bed with little sticky squares that are reusable – and you just scrub them off with a little bit of water to get rid of any fuzzies that accumulate over time.

You line the first corner up with the needle and start sewing, keeping the farthest corner aligned with the center black line.  I like this particular guide, because it also has guidelines set off 1/4″ away from the center for when you need an offset stitch – plus it has those great diagonal guidelines for when you need to stitch together two perpendicular pieces of fabric, like binding strips.

Now, if you’re not ready to invest in a printed guide, or if you just want to give this method a test-drive, try aligning the edge of a piece of painter’s tape with your needle and using this to guide your fabric.

This method actually worked really well for me … until I had to open my bobbin cover, which shifted and crinkled the tape.  This got a bit irritating when the fabric started to snag on the corners of the tape and I always had to stop sewing and go hunting for the roll when I needed a fresh piece …

Either way, I hope you have a new little skill that can help you spend a little bit more time sewing.  Next week, I’ll be back with a post that sings the praises of the “Stitch, Flip, + Trim” method which goes hand-in-hand with today’s post.  See you then and happy Valentine’s Day!! 


If you are interested in trying the Sew Straight guide, I did order a fresh batch of them for the shop, and we will have them on sale until we start our QAL next month.   And!  If you’ve already purchased a Mystery quilt kit, I’m happy to ship it with your kit next month and refund any shipping charges – just email me to let me know you’re ok with waiting.

2 thoughts on “Sewing without Pencil Lines

  1. Can you line up your tape on the opposite side of the needle? Then it wouldn’t be in the way of the bobbin door.

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