Pressing is one of those ‘boring’ and often neglected subjects that is surprisingly important to the success of your piecing. I have a few tips to help.
Back in the mid-80’s when the world of quiltmaking was undergoing a massive transformation shifting from templates to rotary cutting, we found there was a whole new subject to address—the pressing of seams. Up until then the rule was to press to the dark. With rotary cutting that rule didn’t apply anymore as seam intersections were no longer free-standing. In fact, pressing to the dark is now a luxury choice falling behind the primacy of nesting seams and producing a flat block.
Seams in quiltmaking have pretty much always been pressed to one side with good reason, unlike in garment construction where they are generally pressed open
- Pressing to one side is much easier than pressing seams open.
- Thread color is less likely to show which is important since we can’t match thread to both colors in a seam, only one.
- Batting is less apt to sneak through to the top than when seams are pressed open.
- The number one reason for pressing to one side is to nest seam ridge against seam ridge where intersections meet. This one feature, called butting or nesting, in conjunction with a perfect 1/4” seam allowance, is the best way to ensure sharp points and tight seams at intersections.
The absolute value of nesting became very apparent to me when writing my first book, Small Talk, on miniatures in the late 80’s. Rotary cutting was still very young and we were all pioneering new ways to do things. One of the subjects that needed addressing was pressing.
When sewing those teeny, tiny pieces together it was imperative that all seams butt or the block would be a lumpy, inaccurate mess. In order to understand where the seams needed to go I created pressing plans.
A pressing plan is a line drawing of the block used to map out the pressing of each seam using arrows. Try using them for your own projects.
I’ve written entire chapters on the subject of pressing but here are just a few tips that may help.
- A good, clean iron with a cotton setting is all that’s essential.
- Press, don’t attack the fabric! Heavy-handed pressing will stretch both the bias grain as well as the cross grain of the fabric. Steam will make it even worse.
- Set your seam line before pressing. Heat and a little steam or spray relaxes the thread and helps it settle into the weave of the fabric for a smoother seam.
- When pressing a seam, use a dry iron on the cotton setting and, working from the right side, nudge the top fabric over the seam that is to go under it. Working from the wrong side to press the seam allowance itself is tedious and can cause unwanted pleats in the seam on the right side. Once the seam is in place, use steam or spray to gently set it into a crisp, flat, unpleated seam.
- When pressing strip sets, always press each seam before adding another or you chance stretching and distorting it later when you try to press all the seams at one time.
- When working with half-square triangle units or folded corners, we love to use our irons to flip over those triangle pairs or corners. Unfortunately that movement can stretch and distort the triangles since the bias grain runs right into those corners! Instead, move your iron gently in the direction of the straight grain, not into the bias. Always know where the bias grain is in your piecing so you can avoid pressing into it.
I hope some of these ideas help you master impressive pressing!