Pressing Q & A

WHICH BRAND OF IRON IS THE BEST? Any brand of iron that gets hot and stays hot.

SHOULD YOU USE STEAM? Steam is a personal preference. Use steam, OR if you like to use a dry iron, keep a spray bottle of water handy for those stubborn creases.

SHOULD YOU USE STARCH?Starch or a spray product like Best Press, can also be a personal choice. They keep your piecing crisp and square as you work and are certainly optional and not a 'must-do' part of quilt block pressing. There are some types of patch work that are going to benefit from using a starch product. For instance, it is helpful to use Best Press (or a similar product) when working with small pieces; when the cotton fabrics you are piecing seem especially soft or unstable; or you are going to be cutting on the bias.

PRESS BEFORE CUTTING? It is important to press fabric that comes off the bolt, or has been folded as a Fat Quarter, or you are usingscraps that have been bunched up, before cutting into it. Fabric that has been on the bolt is almost always creased sharply at the fold.

Quilters who pre-wash their yardage find that pressing it when fabric comes out of the laundry is often a necessity.  If you pre-wash yardage, consider using steam and starch - this can really help avoid problems later.  Avoid the dreaded strip "elbow" and get your yardage smoothed out before cutting.

WHY IS THE SEAM THAT I STITCHED AS A STRAIGHT LINE NOW A CURVE? This can happen when you are IRONING and not PRESSING. If straight seams are now curved, or strip sets are no longer straight, then too much pressure is being applied and the iron is being pushed across the fabric.  

  • PRESSING requires a motion where you bring your iron straight down onto your fabric from above with light pressure, letting the heat of your iron do the work.  It is the best way to press the seams of your quilt blocks. If you are getting distortion when pressing strip sets, try laying the strip set on top of a striped fabric to see where things are not staying straight. Lining up the strip set along the printed stripes of the fabric will help you to straighten it out again.
  • IRONING is a motion where you have placed your iron onto your fabric and are moving the iron to and fro and from side to side without lifting it much off the fabric.  It works well when you are ironing the folds out of new fat quarters and yardage, or when you have a bunch of scraps from your stash that need to be straightened up before cutting out quilt pieces. Also, it's how you use your iron on clothing - but it is not the best motion for ironing quilt blocks as it may distort your seams. 

SETTING THE STITCHES FIRST To get straight, flat seams, press the seam while closed, before pressing to the side (or pressing open if that's what you are doing). Leave your patchwork unit just as you have sewn it and press along the stitching line. This step sets the stitches in place and the seam is nice and flat.

PRESS SEAM ALLOWANCES TO THE DARK SIDE? It's always helps when a pattern shows which direction is best to press your seam allowances.  It can be a simple note usually saying that seams should be pressed toward the dark fabric, or a pattern may have more detailed instructions, sometimes including illustrations with arrows. Pressing seam allowances toward the dark keeps the darker colors from "shadowing through" the lighter colors when the quilt is finished.

When seam allowances are pressed toward the darker fabric they then face opposite seam allowances on the piece that they are sewn to when building your block.  Having seams nest or face away from each other at intersections helps to reduce bulk and increase accuracy. Reducing bulk at intersections helps your completed block come out to be the right size.

There are times when a quilt pattern may tell you to press your seams in a specific direction.  You may find that you will have to press some seams away from the darker fabric so that you can "nest" your seams when needed.

Pressing to the dark side...Start with dark fabric on top, finger press open, set with hot iron. On the back of your piece the seam allowance is now pressed towards the darker fabric.

PRESSING TIPS for SEAM INTERSECTIONS If you have ever struggled with a bump in the middle back of your quilt block, these two bump reducing techniques may help:

  • MINI 4-PATCH CENTER:  on the back of a 4-Patch unit you will see that there are a couple of threads keeping the two middle seams together. Clip out only those couple of threads stitched just into the    seam allowance.  Now press the clipped seams in two different directions. This pressing creates a miniature 4-Patch design which helps reduce that 'bump' in your block.

  • TRIANGLE or PINWHEEL CENTER - This works in the same way to reduce bulk for the back of a half square triangle block (or pinwheel block).  Clip those few threads in the seam allowance on the back of your block, press the seam allowances in opposing direction. This pressing creates a miniature pinwheel on the back of your block that reduces bulk and minimizes the bump on the front.


PRESS SEAM ALLOWANCES OPEN? Open seams can reduce bulk and bumpy intersections in some types of piecing. If our pattern calls for pressing seam open, do so, because the person who wrote this pattern knows this particular quilt block looks best with the seams pressed open.  HOWEVER- Pressing all your seams open, for all your work, all the time is not the best practice.  Seams that have been pressed open are not as strong or durable as seam allowances that have been pressed to the side.  But when your pattern or situation calls for pressed open seams try these tips:

  • Use the tip of the iron, or a tool like the Purple Thang to open the seam. Go slowly, using a light touch. Too much pressure distorts your seam.
  • Turn the patchwork over and press again from the front.

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