Pressing Quilt Seams – Tips, Tricks & Side vs Open

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Pressing quilt seams is not something most of us are overly enthusiastic about, but it really is absolutely necessary! Why? Well, let me explain…It makes it much easier to join blocks accurately, and match seams perfectly. It makes your quilt top lie flat and have a lovely smooth appearance. It gives a neat, crisp, professional finish to your quilt. Let`s look at this task in a little more detail.

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Pressing Quilt SeamsPressing Quilt Seams To One Side – AdvantagesPressing Quilt Seams Open – AdvantagesOpen vs Side Pressing Quilt SeamsMore on Pressing Quilt SeamsDifferences Between Pressing And IroningSteam Or No Steam?Instructions For Pressing Quilt SeamsDirection Of Iron when Pressing Quilt SeamsAssembling Rows After Pressing Quilt SeamsAssembling Pressed Open SeamsAssembling Side Pressed SeamsPressing Quilt Seams When Multiple Seams Meet UpPressing Quilt Seams – In ConclusionMore Quilting ArticlesQuilting Blocks

Pressing Quilt Seams

To make a perfect quilt, your seams need to line up accurately. This is a lot easier if your seams have been pressed flat. In general, every single seam that you sew needs to be pressed before adding the unit to the next piece. For this reason, it is a good idea to keep your iron and ironing board close to your sewing machine, so that it is right there, ready to use each time. If you have to get up and walk to your kitchen every time you finish a tiny seam, you will be much more inclined to skip a few steps when it comes to pressing your seams!

In the past, quilters were always taught to press their seams to one side, specifically to the side of the darker fabric. Lately, there has been some controversy about this, leading to heated discussions on social media platforms. Some quilters are adamant that pressing to one side is the only way to do it, others prefer to press their seams open.

Pressing Quilt Seams To One Side – Advantages

It is useful to press to one side for a number of reasons.

You can press towards the darker side, so that the seam allowance does not ‘shadow’ through the fabric.Pressing seams in opposite directions allows you to ‘nest’ or interlock the seams which helps create perfect seam intersections.It is faster to press to the side than to press open.If you plan to stitch in the ditch when doing the quilting, seams pressed to the side will be much stronger. If you stitch in the ditch with an open seam, you end up stitching over only the threads holding the seam together. This will in fact weaken your seam.

Pressing Quilt Seams To the SidePressing Quilt Seams To the SidePinPressing Quilt Seams To the Side

Pressing Quilt Seams Open – Advantages

It is best to press seams open where many seams are meeting up, it reduces bulkiness.Your final quilt top will appear smoother when seams are pressed open. Especially if you are using thick fabrics!Quilting is easier when seams are pressed open. There is less fabric to quilt through, especially if you are quilting by hand.

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Open vs Side Pressing Quilt Seams

So, in the end, it is up to you to decide which method of pressing you prefer. Quilting is such a unique and individual journey. Personally, I like to apply a little of each method, depending on the blocks I am assembling. As long as the seams are well pressed, it doesn’t really matter!

Whichever method you prefer, be sure to press, not iron the fabric, to avoid distortion of the blocks.

More on Pressing Quilt Seams

Differences Between Pressing And Ironing

Ironing is a side-to-side motion, keeping your iron moving along the fabric for as long as possible. The point of ironing is to remove creases and wrinkles in the fabric.

Pressing is lifting and lowering the iron in one spot. Its point is to create creases in your fabric, but only along the seam lines. It makes seams lie flat, and is also useful for fusing fabrics.

Steam Or No Steam?

This is yet another controversial topic! Using the steam function on your iron can help to flatten seams efficiently, but be aware that if you move side to side at all, the steam can easily stretch and distort your blocks. Because of this, I feel that it is usually best to use a very hot, dry iron. (Only on pure cotton fabrics, though!) If you are trying to flatten a section with lots of points or seam intersections, you may need the extra strength of a bit of steam. Once again, just do whichever you prefer, so that you enjoy the whole process of putting your quilt together.

Instructions For Pressing Quilt Seams

First ‘set’ the seam: This means to press the seam flat, just as you have sewn it, before opening out the fabrics at all. Place the stitched together fabrics on your ironing board, just as you have sewn them, wrong side up, right sides facing. Then lower your hot iron onto the fabric for a few seconds. This helps to sink the stitches into the fabric and allows better pressing once the fabric is opened out. It also smooths out any small puckers, and sorts out any thread tension problems.Press your seam: Now open out your block or strip and place it on the ironing board wrong side up.Side Seams: If you prefer to press seams to the side, fold the seam allowance towards the darker fabric and press the seam flat just by lowering and lifting the iron. If you are pressing a long seam, for example, sewing entire strips together, lift the iron and then move on to the next section.Open Seams: If you have decided to press the seams open, lay the fabric on the board and open the seam out with your fingers. Finger press the seam first. To finger press just push the back of your nail along the seam. Once it has been nicely opened, lower and lift your iron on the seam.Finishing: Now turn your unit over so that the right side is up and press the seam again on the right side.

Direction Of Iron when Pressing Quilt Seams

To press straight seams, be aware of the grainline of the fabric, and place your iron parallel to the grain.

To press bias seams, i.e. triangles and corners, lift and lower the iron at a 45-degree angle to the seam. It will still be facing along the straight grain of the fabric.

Assembling Rows After Pressing Quilt Seams

Once the blocks have been assembled into rows, you need to stitch the rows together.

Assembling Pressed Open Seams

If your seams are pressed open, pin the seams precisely into place before stitching.

Assembling Side Pressed Seams

If you have pressed seams to one side, you need to plan your pressing ahead of time, so that the nesting works out perfectly.

The best way to do this is to number the rows in the order in which they must be assembled. Either write on them with a removable marker or pin bits of paper onto each row.

Then press all the odd-numbered seams to the right and all the even-numbered seams to the left.

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This should line the seams up nicely to lock into place.

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Another method of aligning seams for nesting is to press all the seams in odd-numbered rows to the outside of each block, and all the even-numbered rows to the inside of each block. This will also result in butting the seams perfectly.

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Pressing Quilt Seams When Multiple Seams Meet Up

For example, if you have a place where four blocks all meet up in one corner. This can be very bulky, so here is the pressing method for this scenario.

Using very sharp and pointy small scissors, clip each seam allowance up to a few threads from the stitching. Be very careful not to snip through the stitching!! 

Keep the fabric folded as when setting a seam while clipping. Then press left-hand seams all to the top, right-hand seams to the bottom. This is one case where the seams must all be pressed open. Open out those clipped seam allowances and finger press them all open. It will look like a teeny little four-patch square. Once you have them all sitting nice and flat by manipulating with your fingers, press them with the iron. You should end up with a lovely flat central corner.

Pressing Quilt Seams – In Conclusion

When I was learning to sew, I started with garment construction before moving on to quilting. Even when dressmaking, we were told to press every single seam before moving on to the next one. Of course, I was impatient and wanted my garment to be complete, so that I could wear it as soon as possible. You can all guess what the results were! Very messy garments, which did not end up being worn very often! So now I am very careful to keep pressing, whatever I am stitching. It’s even more important in quilting!

Have fun constructing your quilts, don’t skip any of the important steps and you will have a beautiful quilt at the end of it all, well worth the little bit of extra effort! You must just decide whether you are going to press your seams open, or to the side!

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