We asked some of our favorite quilters: “When it comes to pressing seam allowances, people can be set in their ways. (See what we did there??) Which camp are you in: Open, To the Dark Side, It Depends, Why does your method work best for you?”
Pressing Seams Open in Quilting
“I’m definitely a ‘Press Open’ type of quilter! For me it’s the best way to get a very flat top and ease the quilting process. In addition to that, no need to bother about which side to press whether it be for colours or nesting seams. I would say the downside is that I have to be more careful when I piece a design which calls for matching seams”
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“When it comes to pressing, I am very meticulous.
“First of all, I always press my fabrics before I begin. I love pressing and I do press all my seams and fabrics all the time. Pressing is a very pressing matter when it comes to foundation paper piecing. No pressing, no proper quilt block. So I do press my seams (usually open) and I use a tailor’s clapper. The tailor’s clapper is my go to tool and works absolute wonders. Not just for paper piecing, but for quilt and sewing seams in general.”
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“Open, even with curved piecing.
“I like to press open whenever possible, to cut down on bulk and for flatter blocks. If the seam is fighting me too much, e.g. pieced stripes in a curve, I will press to one side. But 9 out of 10 times I will press my seams open. I like the look of an open seam and an open seam gives a truer representation of intended design because it lays flat and doesn’t force one block or unit to look as if it is under or on top of the other.”
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“Most of the time, I press open and use a clapper when pressing! I’ve designed a clapper that is long and skinny, perfect for my quilting seams (versus a traditional tailor’s clapper.) I also try to avoid seam shadows whenever possible, so pressing open helps this! Both these practices help my quilts lay flat for quilting as well – two wins in my book.”
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Pressing Seams to One Side to Nest in Quilting
“Most fabrics I work with do not have an issue with shadowing, so I press in the direction that will allow my seam allowances to nest. This helps me have matching intersections!”
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Pressing Seams to the Darkest Fabric in Quilting
“To the dark side! (Unless it’s a really bulky seam – then open!)”
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“I always ‘set’ the seam with the iron after I sew two fabrics together before I open the two pieces flat.
“Then I press the seam to the darker side. This helps it from being visible on the front of a light fabric.
“I also press EVERY two pieces I sew together BEFORE I add a third piece and so on. NEVER do sew several pieces in a row without pressing in between.I do a lot of curved piecing with a very scant seam, sometimes so scant that there is no seam to press! This creates a beautiful almost seamless join that I can press very smoothly from the right side and virtually LOOKS LIKE THE TWO PIECES JUST BUTT up against each other, causing no bulk from the front.”
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“My biggest tip for pressing is to give the seam a ‘warm hug’ before pressing to the dark side. That simply means pressing the seam flat with the iron and then pressing to the dark side.”
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Which Way to Press Seams in Quilting – It Depends
“I am in the ‘it depends’ camp. Some patterns are written with very specific pressing instructions, so I chose the placement of my dark fabrics very carefully. In general, when I’m doing my own thing, I press my seams open to reduce bulk and solve the problem of dark shadows.”
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“As for pressing, I’m in the whatever works best for the piece I’m making camp.
“What I’m most passionate about is pressing in general. Great pressing leads to great quilts. I would call myself a situational presser which means I look at the piece I’m doing and press the way it works best on that piece.
“There is one thing I don’t compromise on though, and that is setting seams. I set the seam before I use any pressing method. For those of you who aren’t familiar with setting seams, it simply means to press as sewn. I press the piece as sewn and then I press open or to the side, etc. Setting seams prepares a seam for pressing and results in flatter, better pressed seams. A beautifully pressed seam means a nice flat top which results in easier quilting.”
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“The question always comes up during my classes: ‘Which way do you press your seams?’ My answer: ‘Whichever way makes the facets lie the flattest, even if that means pressing to the light side.’ Needle-nose facets – long, thin pieces with pointy ends – nearly always lie flattest when their seam allowances are pressed away from them, not under them.
“One of my favorite tools to get crisp, flat seams is Easy Press Fabric Solution by Acorn Precision Piecing Products. It’s wonderful! Dab a bit of it on the back of your block along the seam line and press with a hot iron. Super sharp seams!”
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“It depends! For garments, usually open, unless I’m doing a flat-felled or french seam or Hong Kong finish. For quilting, to the dark side unless there are a thousand pieces, in which case open might be better! “
Sarah Ann Smith
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“My method? I like to start with a pressing plan and look at the block and figure out what will work best. Most often I press to the side – but not always to the dark side! I press so that my seams will nest together. I find that I can keep seams together easier when they nest. And while that is my preferred method, sometimes pressing a seam open helps a block to lay flat. When pressing seams open, it is important to reduce the stitch length so the seam doesn’t pull apart.”
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“As regards pressing I seldom look at dark or light unless working with white. In that case I try to press away from the white.
“I also try to fan seams at intersections when I can. Lastly but most importantly to me, I try to press away from the side with the most seams. When machine piecing I will press after each seam; however when hand piecing I press when I’ve completed the block. I think the reason for this is that with hand piecing it is easy enough to change the way in which the seam lies as stitching doesn’t extend into the seam allowance.”
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“It depends on how many seams are coming together and whether there are complicated matching points–For large numbers of seams and complicated point matching I press open. All other seams go to the dark side.”
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“For me it always depends. I think of seams as a design element of my pictorial quilts. One can slightly sculpt the surface of a quilt with seam allowances. Ironing the seam allowances in one direction lifts that piece just above the surface. I will often press the seam allowances toward the subject and away from the background. That helps the subject to stand out. Seam allowances can get messy in areas where there is a lot of piecing. In that case, I usually press the seams open to help reduce the bulk in that area.”
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Here is an example of ‘it depends’. The center squares were pressed with seams open. When the strip of center squares are sewn to the longer strips of the darker fabric, there isn’t as much bulk as there would be if the seams had been pressed to a side. Then, the longer seams were pressed to the darker color.
On the front side, it is hard to see, but the seams that were pressed open do lay flatter, and the longer seams that were pressed to the dark side have a tiny ridge due to the triple thickness of fabric.
What is your pressing preference?
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