Y Fear? Help is Here. The Oft-dreaded Y-seam Construction…Simplified!

I’ve frequently had quilters stop by my booth at shows and ask if a pattern has “y-seams.”  If I reply with a cheerful “yes,” often I hear a groan, or the comment, “I don’t do y-seams”…or both. What is it about this particular construction that brings out the fear in some of us? Perhaps a bad experience with y-seams in the past? Whatever the cause, I’m hoping that this tutorial will help simplify the technique and encourage you to give y-seams a try. Look at some of the wonderful designs you can achieve with just a little patience and practice.

Quilt by Diana McClun and Laura Nownes.

Pattern by Diana McClun and Laura Nownes.

Y-seam construction is used in piecing when three shapes meet to form the letter Y as shown in the photo below. I am showing the back sides of the shapes to give you a clearer understanding of how the technique works. I’ve marked the shapes with lines 1/4″ in from the cut edges, all the way around the shapes. These will be the stitching lines. Notice that there are dots at the intersections of the lines only on the “wide” angles/corners, not the long, narrow or pointy angles/corners. The first time you attempt this technique, you might find it helpful to mark these guidelines. Just be careful that you don’t use a marking pen/pencil that will show through onto the right side of the fabric. (More on these dots later.)

These 45-degree-angle diamonds are found in the eight-pointed star designs such as LeMoyne, Star of Bethlehem, North Carolina Lily, and so many more.

The two quilts that I have shown above use 45-degree- and 60-degree-angle diamonds. To cut 45-degree-angle diamonds, first cut strips any width you like. For this example, let’s cut a 3″-wide strip. The instructions that follow are for right-handed cutters; left-handed cutters will want to reverse them.

1. Place the 45-degree-angle marking on your ruler on the bottom edge of the strip. Make a cut to get the first 45-degree angle.

Notice that the edge of the ruler is touching the top upper left-hand corner of the strip and the 45-degree-angle marking is in line with the bottom edge of the strip.

2. Keeping the 45-degree angle on the bottom edge of the strip, slide the ruler to the right until the 3″ marking on the ruler is in line with the first cut. Cut the diamond.

3. Repeat the previous step, cutting along the length of the strip until you have cut as many diamonds as you need for your project.

The process for cutting 60-degree-angle diamonds is similar to the process for cutting 45-degree-angle diamonds with the exception that you’ll use the 60-degree-angle marking on the ruler instead.

Now for the sewing: You’ll sew the three shapes together in three separate steps, first joining two shapes to make a pair and then adding the third shape. It honestly doesn’t matter which two shapes you start with. It also doesn’t matter if you start or end at the dot, as long as you never stitch beyond it. Think of the dot as a stop sign. NEVER stitch beyond it, not even one stitch!

Because of the precision required for stitching the lines,  you’ll need to see the dots clearly as you sew. I find an open-toe foot (shown on the right) to be a big help, as there is no center bar to obstruct my view.

I have better visibility with my open-toe foot (shown on the right) than with my general purpose or patchwork foot.

I refer to the stitching lines as the three “legs of the Y.” The next photo shows what the first leg of the Y looks like when two of the shapes have been sewn together. I started at the dot, took a few backstitches to reinforce the corner, and then stitched all the way to the opposite raw edge (no dot there, so no stopping). No pressing yet.

I started at the dot, took a few backstitches, and then stitched all the way to the end.

Note: If you are stitching toward the dot, it is not always possible to hit it perfectly each time. As I approach the dot, I slow down and turn the hand wheel on the side of my sewing machine to carefully “walk” the last stitch or two. Often I must make the decision between stopping short and leaving a small space before the dot, or taking one more stitch that will go beyond the dot. It is always better to stop short of the dot. The small gap will be filled in once the unit is pressed.

Next, add the third shape for the second leg of the Y. You can start either at the dot or stitch into it. I like to stitch with the fabric that gives me the best view of my previous stitching line on the top.

I started at the end and stitched as close as I could get to the dot, without overshooting it, and finished with a few backstitches.

Before sewing the third leg, pull the shape that will not be involved in the seam out of the way. Sew the seam.

Pull the shape that is not involved in this seam out of the way so it doesn't get caught in the stitching line.

Now you’re ready to press. Here’s a photo of the unit, wrong side up, showing how I press the seams.

Pressing on wrong side for both 45-degree- and 60-degree-angle diamonds.

And here it is, right side up, with no puckers where the seams meet. That’s the goal.

Right sides of finished units.

There you go. I hope this little tutorial will give you the help and confidence you need to try some of those patterns you may have been avoiding. “Y” not? You might find that you enjoy it!

Happy Quilting everyone!

p.s. I’m all about teaching, and writing tutorials are some of my favorite posts. I would like to know if you find them helpful. If so, feel free to let me know if  there are any other techniques or subjects you would like to see covered. I appreciate your input.

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7 Responses to Y Fear? Help is Here. The Oft-dreaded Y-seam Construction…Simplified!

  1. Pingback: Drafting, Part 2: Making an 8-Pointed or Lemoyne Star in Any Size |

  2. Laura, I learned to quilt with your Quilts, Quilts, Quilts. It is my bible. I love these tutorials. Can’t tell you what to do as I read every one of them and always find something worth remembering. Please keep them up.

  3. Colleen Gander says:

    You make it look easy and it’s always about following the instruction for precision. Thanks for the clear direction.

  4. iluvmybugs says:

    Thank you for this great tutorial!!

  5. Sue says:

    Laura. Thank you! Thank you! I remember learning this (at least 100 years ago) in one of your beginning classes but have shied away from it ever since. Your directions are so easy to understand. Am printing this off for posterity!! Love your blog.

  6. Michelle says:

    Where were you when I needed this post a year ago! Thank you for the lesson. I think I did it the hard way…

  7. Susan says:

    I find your Tumbling Block quilt stunning! If I wanted to make one similar, but wanted to do it, using the English Paper Piecing method (by hand)…would I cut all my papers the diamond shape and then sew together in units of 4? I hope you understand my question?

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