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How To Press Quilt Block Seams

Summary

No matter how many times we seem to press those seams, they never seem to be right! This illustrated guide will show you how to press quilt block seams.

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How To Press Quilt Block Seams

(Even nasty center knobs!)

"Press towards the dark!" This sentence is kind of a joke among many of us in our quilting group. I always feel like I need to pause after saying this (in a deep, firm voice) and wait for the "Star Wars" movie theme song to back me up. When it comes to pressing seams on a quilt block - those four words are a key rule.

How To Press Quilt Block Seams

 

When I teach classes I say this sentence over and over again. Class after class. It's important. Just like my constant reminder to my students to close the blade on their rotary cutters immediately after taking a cut. I charge them a nickel every time I find that they don't!

Steam Iron

 

Just why do we quilters follow the rule of pressing seams towards the darker fabric? An easy answer that I could just walk away from would be so that the darker fabric doesn't show through the lighter fabric in the seam allowance and become visible on the front of a quilt. Usually that satisfies most everyone. But there's always one of THEM in every crowd and I come prepared with more information for them!

Most pieced quilt blocks share different color combinations. Sometimes two colors - light and dark, and sometimes more - light, medium, medium dark, and dark, and so on. Yes, the process of pressing our seams to the darker fabric to avoid having the dark fabric show through the lighter fabric in the seam allowance, and then show on the front of the fabric is important. But pressing your seams toward the darker fabric is important for another reason too.

When we all press our seams to one side - the darker of the fabrics - it also creates consistency. This consistency helps us to "snuggle" our seams when we sew pieces together while making individual blocks, sewing one block to another, and even sewing long rows of blocks together.

Edge of Seams

 

Do we ever NOT press our seams towards the darker fabric? Certainly! First of all, a quilt pattern designer may instruct you to press your seams in a specific direction when creating a block to eliminate bulky seams. You may find that you just can't avoid pressing some seams away from the darker fabric so that you can "snuggle" your seams when necessary.

There are also times when you will need to press your seams open. This technique is often used when creating many-pointed star blocks. The open seams help to eliminate bulk. I DON'T recommend pressing all of the seams open on all quilt blocks. Remember, we press our seams to one side to prevent broken stitches within a block, along the length of your border strips, and even your backing. I've seen too many people press the seams open when they sew two large pieces of fabric together to create a large piece of backing. This creates stress on the open seams. STOP THIS! I understand that the quilter wants to eliminate a seamed ridge on the back of the quilt, but when the seams are pressed open it gives "broken stitches" free reign. Flattening, pulling, and stretching the backing to ready it for basting or putting it on a quilt frame lets those open seam stitches break.

Many of us have struggled with those nasty knobs in the middle back of our quit blocks. They're awful! They look horrible! And smashing them down with your fist doesn't ever seem to help. Early on in my quilting efforts those type of blocks would often find themselves flung into the depths of my fabric closet.

 

These two Center Knob techniques made such a difference! I love teaching them to students and watching their faces light up in amazement.

4-Patch Center:

At the middle of the long seam on the back of the 4-Patch quilt block you will see that there are a couple of threads keeping the two middle seams together.

Clipping Image 1

 

Clip only those couple of threads just into the seam allowance.

 

Now press the clipped seams in two different directions. This pressing creates a miniature 4-Patch design which will eliminate bulk. *Note - the seams in photos show pressing toward the lighter fabric for illustrative purposes only.

 

Pinwheel Center

This process is the same for the back of a Pinwheel quilt block. This method creates a cute miniature pinwheel!

 

 

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Glossary

Backing
The fabric on the back of a Quilt Sandwich (Top, Batting and Backing).

Same As: Lining
Basting
A temporary method of holding the quilt Sandwich layers together while you finish assembling it. This can be conducted using Basting Sprays, pins, clips or temporary stitching called a Tacking Stitch or Basting Stitch.
Block
The basic unit of a quilt top, usually square but can be rectangular or other shapes. Blocks can be pieced, appliqued or plain.
Border
A strip of fabric or pieced strip of fabric joined to the edges of the inner quilt and used to frame it.
Frame
Four strips of wood that supports the layers for quilting.
Pieced Quilt
The most commonly seen quilt type which is made up of many small pieces of fabric sewn together by hand or machine. Often called Patchwork in some countries outside the USA.

Same As: Piecing Quilt
Pinwheel
Consists of four right triangles forming a square and then joined together in an alternating fashion.
Press
Method of using an iron to press seams and blocks. This means simply pressing downwards on the seam with the iron from above and not moving the iron back and forth which can distort the block or seam.
Pressing
Picking a hot iron up off your fabric or quilt top and then putting it down in another place to remove the wrinkles. When you press your fabric, you do not slide the hot iron.

See Also: Ironing
Seam Allowance
The width of fabric left to the right of a sewn seam. In quilting this is traditionally 1/4 inch. For sewing garments it is usually 5/8 inch.
Star
A large central star, made up of diamond shaped fabric or a square with right triangles, to form the star points from the center out.
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Quilting Contessa is a collection of various authors around the world that have submitted articles for the QuiltingHub 'How To' quilt wiki.  These are authors that do not write enough to have their own authorship, yet provide valuable content for the site.  If you wish to submit an article, contact us on QuiltingHub.
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