When it comes to pressing quilt tops, award-winning quilter Linda Pumphrey has strong opinions. In each of her books, Red & White Quilting and Mountain Mist Historical Quilts, Linda stresses the importance of pressing seams as you piece and the difference it can make in the finished quilt.
Above, from left to right: Cabin in the Cotton, Shadow Trail, and Fan Quadrille from Mountain Mist Historical Quilts by Linda Pumphrey.
“Three factors go into making perfect points and corners match: accurate cutting, perfect 1/4″ (6mm) seams, and precise pressing of the seams,” writes Linda. “If you master all three, you’ll find that points and corners fall into place like a dream. If you mind only the first two, your quilt can go astray at the ironing board.”
Here, Linda shares her tips for perfectly pressing seams.
8 Tips for Pressing Seams
By Linda Pumphrey
I’m sure you’ve heard all the “quilt-pressing rules,“ such as “always press toward the dark side“ or “always press the seams open.“ When my mom, sister, and I quilt together, the pressing of the quilt top can create controversy. My mom and sister prefer pressing seams to the side, while I like to press seams open. Whatever your preference, below are some tips to assure the best-pressed seams.
Press, Don’t Iron
Pressing is the motion of lowering and lifting the iron from the fabric surface. Ironing is the back-and-forth motion of the iron on the fabric. While ironing can pull and distort shapes, pressing allows you to turn seam allowances open or lay them to one side without distorting or stretching the fabric.
Always Set Stitches
After sewing the seams, always press them with the right sides together to set the stitches into the fabric. (Remember to press, not iron.) This allows the stitches to meld together and holds the fabric better. It also helps alleviate distortion or stretching when you press your seams in one direction or another.
Starting with the darker fabric on top, open up the dark fabric piece and press along the seam line. If you prefer to open all the seams, press from the wrong side and gently press the seams open along the seam line.
Use a Dry Iron
To use steam or not to use steam is another controversial topic. Some quilters love steam, while others never use it. In my experience, it is best to use a dry iron. However, steam might be needed to smooth out seams with lots of points. Instead of steam, you can use a shot of mist from a spray bottle to aid in making sure the seam lies flat.
Finger Press First
For small shapes, you can finger press the back of your fingernail across the inside of the seam. If you finger press small shapes, you will still want to press them with an iron to ensure a smooth seam.
Shadowing occurs when a darker fabric shows through a lighter fabric, which can detract from the overall appearance of your quilt. Shadowing especially occurs when working with two high-contrast colors. Whenever possible press darker fabric to the darker side. If it is not possible, press seams open so the light seams are on the lighter fabric and the darker seams end up on the darker fabric. If you must press to the lighter side, trim the darker seam by 1/16″ (2 mm) so it is slightly smaller than the lighter seam and less visible.
Press Seams Again, If Needed
If a seam is pressed the wrong way, press the shape back to the way it was sewn. Set the seam from the wrong side again, let it cool, and start over.
Press Bias Seams
Press a bias seam with your iron at a 45-degree angle and press along the straight-of-grain of the fabric. This works well on shapes such as flying geese and half-square triangles.
Perfectly pressed seams are key to taking your quilts to the next level. Following Linda’s tips will give your quilts a more professional-looking finish from the start.