“The borders of my wall hanging don’t lie flat against the wall — they’re wavy. Can you help?”
– Quilter’s Review reader
If your quilt won’t lie flat after quilting and adding the binding, the best thing to do is remove the binding and block the quilt top.
Place the quilt top right-side down on a flat work surface such as a sewing table (click here to see our review of the fantastic Sauder sewing table). Use a grid ruler to make sure the corners are at 90 degrees, then tape the corners to the work surface with masking tape. Then tape the center of each side, then tape the center of each segment, and so on, until the quilt is flat around the edges and perfectly square.
Next, mist water over the quilt to get it moderately damp (not soaking wet), then hold a hot steam iron directly over (but not touching) the quilt. Let the quilt top dry completely.
If all or most of the extra fullness hasn’t been steamed out, repeat the damping/steaming procedure one or two more times.
When sewing on the binding, be sure you don’t “ease” the binding in place (meaning there are more inches of binding than inches of quilt edge). Neither should you stretch the binding in place (where there are more inches of quilt edge than inches of binding).
If this will be a wall quilt, put a casing along the bottom edge and slide in a board. Its weight will help keep the quilt flat to the wall.
Prevention Is Better Than Cure
Of course, prevention is the best solution! Ask a group of quilters how to prevent wavy quilts that won’t lie flat and you’ll get just as many answers as you have quilters in the group. If you have this problem frequently, try different approaches until you find what works for you.
Here is my advice for making quilts that lie flat:
1. Step-by-step pressing – If you don’t believe this makes a difference, try making two identical blocks – one with step-by-step pressing and one without. You’ll be won over! Remember to press and place the iron — do not slide and glide! — to avoid stretching out the fabric.
2. Iron seams open – In most cases, ironing the seams open is the best way to go for flat, great-looking quilt blocks, especially when a lot of pieces meet in one spot. Again, try making two quilt blocks, one with seams ironed over and one with seams ironed open – I think you’ll be won over on this one, too.
3. Square up units as you go – Use your grid ruler to square up as you go by using the finished block measurement plus seam allowance as a guide. If you are using applique or some other kind of thread embellishment, start with a piece of fabric larger than the actual size you need.
For example, when making clothing, cut out the pattern pieces 1″ to 2″ larger than the actual cutting line, then after embellishment or applique cut the pattern pieces on the cutting line. When adding borders on a quilt, cut the borders wider than needed. After quilting, square up the quilt and cut off the excess fabric.
4. Use a false back – Quilting and embellishment can distort the finished quilt, especially if there is more quilting in some places than others (ie. an uneven density of stitching). When learning how to free motion quilt, the stitching on top might look a whole lot better than the stitching on the back, plus the tension might not be very good on the back, causing some distortion.
Depending on the type of batting used, you can quilt the top to just the batting (needle-punched cotton works best for this) or you can quilt the top to what I call a “false back” – a lightweight woven fabric. After the quilting or embellishing is finished, square up the quilt and layer it with the real backing fabric. Connect these layers with simple stitching in the ditch between blocks or outline elements in the design.
The advantages of this method are A) you can square-up a quilt top that has been distorted by the stitching, and B) you can cover up stitching that doesn’t look so great on the back, and C) if the quilt top is not flat, you can flatten it out on the real back and “nail it in place” with the final quilting to the real back
5. Blocking and steaming – Plan to block and steam your quilts before adding the binding. Many quilters do this on a regular basis, similar to the way knitters block their knitting before assembling the pieces.