Pressing Quilt Seams and Blocks

Although there is general consensus on the importance of pressing when it comes to quilt construction, from pressing fabric before cutting it to pressing the quilt top, there is a certain amount of controversy regarding the pressing of seams on a quilt block.

Cotton, being the fabric fiber of choice for quilt making, wrinkles a lot. The cotton fibers are stretched in the loom in order to weave them. When cotton fabric is washed, the fibers relax and wrinkle. Pressing the fabric after washing it is a matter of choice. Some quilters prefer to press it after washing it, others prefer to simply fold it and store it, then press it when it is ready to be cut. Pressing is important, as opposed to ironing. The idea behind pressing is to try not ironto distort the cotton fibers in the fabric by allowing the iron to press against the fabric without a lot of motion from the iron (no back and forth movements). There are also two divided camps when it comes to using steam or not when pressing. Steam can distort the fabric somewhat, but it does make pressing lengths of cotton fabric a lot easier. Perhaps, the middle route when pressing fabric before cutting is the best: using steam and cotton setting on the iron, but trying to keep the iron steady, without much back and forth movement. It is best to press the fabric following the grain lines, trying to avoid the bias to keep the grain straight.

The quality of your iron makes a difference when pressing. Try to get the best iron you can afford. A good iron will get hot enough to press cotton without steam.

Pressing Seams

It is a good practice to press the seams as one sews the quilt block pieces and units. It is important to keep blocks straight and square from the start of construction. It might seem as time consuming, but in the long run, you will be saving time by pressing as you go, since there will be less time spent placing and removing pins when piecing units. It will also saves time when the block is done and all you need to do is press the final seam and give it one quick press to make sure it is flat and square.
It is also important to keep seams going in a given direction when sewing a block by machine, so that the seams pressing1intersect and lock and there are no “gaps” between pieces. By doing so, you can use less pins and sew quickly.
Some quilters argue that pressing seams to one side is a residue left from hand piecing days, when pressing to the side gave the seam more strength, while pressing them open weakened the seams and with repeated washings, made seams pop and split. Fabric and thread quality might have a lot more to do with seam strength than hand or machine piecing, though. When machine piecing, in some cases it might be advantageous to press seams open. A block like a Lemoyne Star in which eight diamonds intersect in the center might be a clear case for pressing seams open. In this particular instance, a shorter stitch length might be necessary to
When pressing to one side, it is a good idea to have a pressing diagram, a simple black and white outline of the block with the seams drawn and arrows pointing at the direction they need to be pressed, so they interlock. In most cases, the aim is to keep the bulk of the seams distributed evenly, so the finished block lies as flat as possible. In blocks with fabrics with high contrast, pressing the fabric to the darker fabric avoids shadows behind the quilt

In order to press seams in an efficient way, it is a good idea to set a pressing station near the sewing machine. Ideally, pressing2an ironing board should be to the right of the machine so that when the seam is sewn, the quilter can press the seam straight away. When machine piecing using the “chain piecing” method (that is, when all like units of a block, or several blocks are machine sewn without cutting the thread, just feeding one after another into the machine), having the machine nearby saves time and effort. To press a seam, simply open the two pieces, lay them flat on the ironing board and gently place the iron on the seam, with the two seam allowances together, placed away from you. Do not move it, just press. Turn it around and make sure the seam is straight. Repeat the press from the right side and move to the next unit. Again, steam is optional. If you choose to press the seam open, open the seam allowances with your fingers and place the iron on top, pressing gently. Turn the unit around, once again, make sure the seam is straight, give it another gentle press and move to the next unit. If your seam is longer than the length of the iron, the idea is the same. Don’t run the iron up and down the seam, rather press, lift the iron, move to the next length of seam, press and continue until the long seam is pressed flat.

Pressing the Finished Block

Once you have finished piecing all the units, it is a good idea to press the block before sewing it into a row or set. At pressing3this point, some quilters like to use a light starch or sizing spray. Press the last seam of the block, then turn the block right side up, and place it on a folded towel on the ironing board. Give it a spray with the starch, if you want and press. Check that the block is perfectly square against your cutting board. Normally, blocks don’t require any trimming and are ready to be sewn into the quilt top. One last pressing is necessary when all the blocks are sewn into a top. This will be the last time ever the cotton fabric will be pressed, since quilts are laundered, but never ironed after they are quilted. Make sure all seams are pressed correctly, all loose threads are clipped and there are no shadows showing from the front before sandwiching your top, backing and batting.

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