Updated: May 31
While perfect points aren't necessary for a beautiful quilt, it's extra nice when everything lines up seamlessly. The best tip I have to achieve perfect points is the hang-pin technique. You may know it as the standing pin technique or a positioning pin; it goes by many names. I use it any time there are two points within blocks or units that I want to just kiss each other; no gap or blunting of the points.
Read all the way to the end; the most important information is last!
Step 1: Rough Alignment
Place the pieces you want to align right sides together and identify the points you want to align.
Step 2: Insert the Hang-pin
Take a straight pin (the stiffer the better) and poke it first through the top piece (from the wrong side) precisely through the point where two or more fabrics come together. If this point is slightly distorted, I split the difference. Next, thread the pin through the bottom piece (from the right side) through its point (again, splitting the difference if the initial point is slightly distorted).
Once the pin is in place, push the pin through the fabric until the head of the pin touches the top of the fabric. Allow it to sit perpendicular to the fabric. Yes, this will make it impossible to lay the pieces flat on your bench, but pushing the pin flat will distort the alignment so it is important to allow the pin to remain perpendicular.
Step 4: Pin the Points
Carefully rotate the pieces until the side to be sewn is aligned making sure not to tug too hard and thus distorting the points secured by the hang-pin. Insert pins normally directly to either side of the hang-pin (as close as possible to the hang-pin) to secure the points.
Now that the points are secure, it is safe to remove the hang-pin so that you can lay the pieces flat on your workbench again.
Step 5: Pin the Rest
Align the rest of the edge to be sewn and pin as you normally would making sure not to tug too hard and distort the pinned points (it's only attached with pins after all!).
Sew your seam making sure to sew a thread width off your point on the wrong side of your fabric and check your points. If you've done everything carefully enough, they should be within 1/16" of where they need to be; pretty darn close to perfect on the first try!
If your points aren't perfect the first time, you can always seam rip and try again. However, unless things are grossly misaligned, I usually just leave it. Firstly, even a trained eye will probably not notice most misalignments once the quilt is together. Second, no one is ever perfect every time and things shift under the needle no matter how good you are. It's much better for your own sanity to just be ok with slight imperfections and move on to the next one. You will get better at it with time.
A Few Important Final Notes
First, if you have multiple points that need to be aligned within the same seam. Place a hang pin at each one prior to doing any regular pinning. If there is excess material between the hang pins, ease this in by stretching the piece without any excess. Yes, this will introduce slight ripples into your final block, but this can usually be taken up during the quilting process. Grossly misaligned points are usually much more noticeable than slight rippling after all is said and done. If you are seeing a lot of rippling, check that your cutting was accurate and that you are sewing a consistent, scant 1/4" seam. This is the root cause of most misalignment issues.
Second, and most importantly, when using the hang-pin technique, the only thing that matters is that the hang-pinned points are aligned. If your edges aren't aligned (because one side no longer has a 1/4" seam allowance), it's OK. If the corners don't match up perfectly, it's OK. Yes, this will affect some alignment things downstream, but those are easier to fix and less noticeable than grossly misaligned points. The only time I break this rule is when my seam allowance will be less than 1/8". Less than 1/8" and your seams may be in jeopardy of coming apart later on. While it's always best to have at least 1/4" inch, less is OK as long as you're quilting densely enough (2" grid maximum) since the quilting will secure any scant seams.
Lastly, this technique is still useful even when you don't necessarily have a 'point' to align, but simply two off-angle seams that need to match up, such as when sewing diamonds. To align this kind of seam using the hang-pin technique, use your ruler to mark a line on the seam a 1/4" in down from the edge on both pieces. Where that mark intersects your seam is where you will insert the hang-pin to ensure perfect alignment.
Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Drop me a line. Happy Quilting!