How to Accurately Pivot Stitch Corners

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If you’ve been working through the beginning sewing projects of making a simple pillowcase, fabric drink coasters, or bean bags, have you discovered the challenging part of pivoting the fabric on the needle when sewing around corners?

A perfect seam allowance with corners
Top picture (above the black line): You’re looking at the stitches on the wrong side of the fabric. Bottom picture (below the black line): Same piece of fabric with a ruler on top of it. Notice how the seam allowances are accurately a 1/4-inch.

It seems pretty straightforward when reading instructions: You sew a straight stitch and pivot around the corners so there is a continuous line of stitches.

You’ve learned when sewing around a corner it’s important to leave the needle in the fabric, raise the presser foot, pivot the fabric, lower the presser foot, and continue sewing.

When you pivot the fabric around the needle, you want the seam allowance to be accurate on both sides of the corner.

The challenge is knowing exactly where to stop sewing to pivot.

Three Ways to Decide Where to Pivot

  1. Eyeball the seam allowance and stop sewing when you think you are at the right spot.
  2. Keep a sewing gauge by your machine. When you think you are close to where you should pivot, stop sewing and use the sewing gauge to measure the distance between the needle and the end of the fabric. Make adjustments if necessary.
  3. Identify the pivot point and mark it before you sew.

The third solution will give you the most accurate results, and your finished pieces will look more polished and crisp.

There are different ways to mark pivot points before you sew.

3 Ways to Mark the Pivot Point

Use a Rotary Cutting Ruler

Supplies: a rotary cutting ruler and a marking pen with removable or disappearing ink

Read the project instructions to determine the seam allowance. With the wrong side of the fabric facing up, place one corner of the ruler on top of the corner where you will need to pivot. Align the seam allowance measurements on either side of the corner. Use the marking pen to mark the pivot point.

Use a rotary cutting ruler to mark a pivot point
With a 1/2-inch seam allowance, the 1/2-inch marks on the rotary cutting ruler are placed on either side of the corner. The pivot point is marked with a water-soluble marking pen.

Use a Seam Gauge

Supplies: a sewing gauge and a marking pen with removable or disappearing ink

Read the project instructions to determine the seam allowance. Set the sewing gauge to the seam allowance and place it on one edge of the corner. Draw a short line with a marking pen.

Use the sewing gauge to make the first of two lines that will intersect to mark the pivot point
With a 1/2-inch seam allowance, use the sewing gauge to make the first of two lines that will intersect to mark the pivot point

Now place the sewing gauge along the perpendicular edge. Draw a short line that intersects with the first line.

Use the sewing gauge to make the second of two lines that will intersect to mark the pivot point
Use the sewing gauge to make the second of two lines that will intersect to mark the pivot point

The point at which the two lines intersect is the pivot point.

Where the lines intersect is the pivot point
The two lines that were made by using the sewing gauge marks the pivot point with a 1/2-inch seam allowance.

Presser Feet Marking

Some presser feet have marks on them to indicate where to stop sewing in order to pivot.

Presser feet marks are my favorite way to pivot around corners when attaching binding to a quilt.

Markings on the 1/4 inch foot show where to stop sewing and pivot
On the 1/4-inch presser foot, the distance between the red line going across the needle hole and the red lines farthest from the needle hole is 1/4-inch.

When the end of the fabric gets to the red lines closest to the end of the presser foot, stop sewing and leave the needle in the fabric.

Stop when the edge of the fabric is at the red lines at the end of the presser foot
When you get to the red lines, stop sewing. Leave the needle in the fabric and lift the presser foot (not shown).

Important: Always leave the needle in the fabric and raise the presser foot BEFORE pivoting the fabric. Then remember to lower the presser foot before you continue sewing.

After pivoting, lower the presser foot and keep sewing.
After pivoting, lower the presser foot and keep sewing. The fabric will be aligned against the edge of the 1/4-inch presser foot keeping an accurate 1/4-inch seam allowance.

Pivoting Tips

Foot Control

If you’re getting close to a pivot mark, ease up on the foot control and take your foot off completely. Then turn the hand wheel toward you the few stitches needed to get to the pivot point.

Align the Needle and the Pivot Point

Sometimes the needle will not be in a position to land exactly where you marked the pivot point. You’ll notice this if you take your foot off the control and use the hand wheel to take the last couple of stitches to the pivot point.

In many cases, getting close to the marked pivot point is good enough.

However, if you want to be as exact as possible and the needle is less than a stitch length away from the pivot mark, try the following:

  • Lift the presser foot.
  • Raise the needle enough to move the fabric slightly and get the needle directly above the mark.
  • Lower the needle in the mark.
  • Pivot the fabric.
  • Lower the presser foot.
  • Start sewing again.

After Sewing Corners

If the corners you’ve sewn aren’t part of topstitching, there are a couple of things you can do to make corners look crisp.

First, clip the corners before turning the fabric right side out. This will reduce extra bulk in the corner. Be careful and don’t cut any stitches.

Clip corner before turning
This photo was taken from my post How to Sew a Simple Pillowcase. The same technique was also used in making fabric coasters and bean bags.

Then, turn the fabric right side out and use something with a point to gently push the corner out to make the corner sharp. Whatever you use, be careful to not push through the fabric.

What You Learned

Knowing where to pivot doesn’t have to be a guessing game. As you gain more sewing experience, you may find that you can eyeball seam allowances with accuracy.

In the meantime, keep your corner seams and topstitching from looking skewed by marking pivot points. You’ll be happier and more satisfied with your finished product.

Let’s Connect

My main goals are to support, empower, and inspire you to discover the joy of sewing.

Need help or have questions on this project, pattern, or tutorial? Send me an email at nicki@theruffledpurse.com and we can work together to get it figured out!

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