A Pressing Issue

April 17, 2011

Many years ago my quilting teacher, Sharon, taught me the ABC’s of quilting:

A is for accurate

B is for be accurate

C is for continue to be accurate

And then know how to fudge when things don’t work :-)!

Many quilters think that pressing is a relatively unimportant topic, but I disagree. We have wonderful tools for cutting extremely accurate pieces; then we strive to sew a perfect “scant quarter inch seam allowance” on our fantastic sewing machines; only to “iron” them with steam while stretching and smashing them all out of whack. So much for accuracy.

I’ve found that if I press (not iron) my seams – to the side – with a dry iron I can virtually eliminate the need to “square up”. In my opinion, if I rotary cut 100 squares and sew 50 pairs from them, then I carefully press each pair flat; I’ve handled them enough and I don’t feel like wasting more time recutting every one to the size I need. Life is just too short for the extra step if it’s easy to avoid. So how do I press without distorting?

1.  After sewing the seam, lay it down unopened and press the dry iron down at one end of the seam, lift, move and press again without sliding the iron. Continue until the entire seam is pressed. This sets the stitches and gives a crisper result.

2. Fold the top fabric down over the seam and finger press. Once it’s flat, place the hot, dry iron on top of it. Move your fingers down to the next portion, followed by the iron again and repeat for the entire seam.

It’s been working well for me. So………do you agree? If you haven’t tried it, please do and let me know what you think.

PS In my original posting of this blog message, my wording gave the idea that I press the seams open. I almost always press to the side and have made the correction above. Thanks to those who spotted it :-).

PPS I do use steam when the quilt top is done and I want to encourage it to be as perfect as possible :o).


  1. Chris,
    Nice comments and photos. I always dry iron (not press). I can’t remember the last time I squared up. Only thing I would add is to press on a ironing surface with a ruled grid if you have if. It is nice to press and be able to reference the size to see if it is close. Also, if I am going to be cutting bias edges (for angles etc.) I will spray starch and press first before I cut. Keep up the good work.

  2. This is great advice, since I realize I have been doing it all wrong for years. I do not use steam, but I do iron, not press. Now, to correct a bad habit will take so doing, but at least I’m aware of the difference……………thanks!

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