What’s the simplest way to improve your quilting skills? Learning how to press. When you press your seam allowances, you eliminate those little bits of fabric that often get lost and distort your finished blocks.
Pressing – the right way – will also save you time because your blocks will fit neatly together when it’s time to assemble your quilt. Notice how I said “the right way?” Pressing can only improve your quilts and accuracy if you do it properly.
Don’t Skip the Prewashing Step
You’re eager to get started with your project. In your eagerness, you may be tempted to skip the prewashing step. But most professional quilters will tell you that this is one of the most important steps.
There are many reasons to prewash your fabric before you even think about cutting and pressing.
- Remove dirt and oils
- Remove excess dye
- Preshrink the fabric
- Remove chemicals used in the dyeing process
Wash your fabric on the gentle cycle with a small amount of detergent (bleach-free). Use the same temperature you plan to use when washing the quilt itself.
Press – Don’t Iron
Many beginner quilters make the mistake of ironing their quilt blocks instead of pressing them. Ironing, especially vigorous ironing, may stretch out the blocks and cause distortion.
Let the weight and heat of the iron work to your advantage. There may be occasions where you have to work into the seam allowance with the tip or side of the iron, but it’s important to be gentle.
Pressing is simpler than it sounds. Here’s how to press quilt block seams:
- Set your iron to the appropriate fabric setting (cotton, synthetic, etc.).
- Place the block on the ironing board unopened. The seam allowance that will be pressed should be facing up.
- Set the iron down on top of the fabric to set the seam
- Lift the iron and let it cool for a bit.
- Working on the lower strip, place the edge of the iron on top of the fabric, and gently work toward and over the seam allowance. Lift and lower the iron along the length of the seam.
- Turn the block over, and press from the back.
Once you’re done pressing, try laying your rotary ruler on top of your pieces. The ruler will trap some of the heat and really set the seams flat. Don’t use your hot iron for this step. You may wind up burning the fabric. You just need a little residual heat.
Wait until the block is completely cool and dry before working with it. Otherwise, it may stretch when it’s still warm or damp.
The ultimate goal with pressing is to make your blocks as flat as possible. This will eliminate a lot of bulk, wrinkles and folds that can skew your accuracy and distort your blocks.
Pressing Before Cutting
Before you even start measuring and cutting your fabric into blocks, it’s important to press it first.
It doesn’t matter whether the fabric has been just cut off the bolt, is freshly out of the dryer or has been sitting in a bin for months, you have to press it before you start cutting. Even freshly washed and dried fabric will have creases and wrinkles that will prevent you from making accurate cuts.
Pressing is essential for flat seams. To set the stitches, you’ll want to press the seam closed. It takes just a few seconds and ensures that your seams are nice and tidy. Eventually, this step will become a habit.
In most cases, you’ll want to press the seams towards the darker fabric. This keeps those colors from “shadowing through” the lighter colors on the quilt.
Pressing Seams Open
To press seams open, you’ll need to be careful and take your time. Yes, you can burn your fingers, but if you’re careful, you should be fine. If you prefer, you can use a stiletto or the iron itself to open the seams instead of using your fingers.
Go slowly when pressing seams open. Going slowly is safer, but don’t apply too much pressure. Otherwise, you’ll wind up with distorted seams and wrinkled seam allowances.
Now, flip the patchwork over and press again from the front.
It’s important to reduce as much bulk as you can when pressing your blocks. But what if you have intersecting seams? Pressing these seams away from each other at the intersections will help flatten your blocks and eliminate a lot of bulk.
Should You Press Open, or to the Side?
This is a question that is still being debated in guilds and on social media. Many quilters prefer to press to the side because it’s faster, and it makes it easier to lock seams in place. Pressing to the side will also make your seams flatter overall.
Others believe that pressing open is better because the pieces lay stronger.
Ultimately, quilting is a personal journey. You may find that you prefer to press your seams open instead of to the side. The key important thing is to make sure that you’re not skipping the pressing step and that you’re doing it properly.
To find a list of the best irons for quilting you can see our recommendations here: https://www.quiltersreview.com/best-quilting-iron/
Shannon has been and avid quilter for over 20 years. Her love of quilts came at an early age from her grandmother. She is a mother of 2 and lives in the US with her loving husband.