Press to Impress! How to Smooth and Flatten Quilt Seams the Right Way

Quilting involves a lot of pressing, from the fabric to the seams to the patchwork of pieces . If you make a mistake during one of these stages, the entire project can go south in a hurry.

So it's no wonder that pressing is a big source of frustration for quilters, and raises so many questions. Which brand of iron is the best? Should I steam? What about starch? Why do straight seams sometimes start to curve?

For the record, any brand of iron that stays hot is the right one for pressing, and whether or not to steam is up to you. (If you decide to, spray bottles of water work just fine.) For advice on all your other pressing issues, read on!

Press Before Cutting

Pressing fabric that's been cut off the bolt or bunched up in a bin is super important before cutting into it. And if you wash the fabric, you definitely need to press it when it comes out of the dryer. In both cases, the creases or folds in the fabric will prevent you from cutting it accurately, and that can mess you up later.

Setting the Stitches

Pressing is a big, giant must for flat seams. First, you want to press the seam closed before pressing it open or to the side (more on that shortly). Pressing the seam closed sets the stitches in place. It only takes a few seconds and will become a habit.

Pressing Seam Allowances to the Dark Side

Most patterns instruct you to press seams toward the darker side of the fabric so those colors don't "shadow through" the lighter ones in the quilt. Plus, seams pressed toward the darker fabric will typically face away from other seam allowances when they're sewn together, which reduces your quilt's bulk. Another good reason to press: It's easier to measure patchwork when it's flat.

Pressing Seam Allowances Open

Yes, you can burn your fingertips by pressing seams open, but not if you're careful. First, use the iron or a stiletto instead of your fingers to open the seam. And go slow. Not only is this safer, but too much pressure creates wonky seams and wrinkled seam allowances.

Flip the patchwork over and press again from the front to really set everything into place. You've cut down on the bulk, which will make finishing your quilt so much easier.

Pressing Seam Intersections

You definitely want to do everything you can to reduce any bulk. Pressing the seams away from each other at the intersections will help you get a flatter piece of patchwork.

Avoiding Curves

If your previously straight seams are now curved, then you're applying too much pressure as you push the iron across the fabric. Stop! Then re-press the seams with a lighter hand.

To double check, lay the patchwork on top of a striped fabric and see if everything lines up. This will help with the final cutting and sewing together, too.

Yes, pressing can be a pain, but the final results can be hugely satisfying. Enjoy them!

January 29, 2019
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Press to Impress! How to Smooth and Flatten Quilt Seams the Right Way