Pressing Matters: How to Press Seams for Patchwork Quilts

16 Apr 2014

Quilters have many jokes about owning several irons--but never ironing laundry. That's because quilters don't iron, we press.

back to basics patchwork pattern
Correctly pressing the many seams on patchwork quilts like this
Back to Basics design allows the blocks to lie flat and makes
it easier to align the blocks and quilt them.
What's the difference? Ironing is a side-to-side motion that removes wrinkles. Pressing is an up-and-down motion used for fusing fabric and for making seams lie flat. Flat seams are crucial to patchwork quilting techniques that involve measuring and aligning blocks.

Traditionally, quilters have always pressed their seam allowances to the side. If you have dark fabric on one side and lighter fabric on the other, you press to the dark side. (Pressing dark fabric to the light side would allow the darker fabric to show through to the front.)

Many modern patchwork quilt artists like to press the seams open, however, saying it allows for a flatter seam. In most cases it's a matter of preference.

Using steam when pressing is also a matter of preference. When used correctly, steam can help the pressing process. However, if you use steam with an ironing motion, be aware that the moisture and movement can distort the sewn units.

Here, then, is the basic method for pressing seams for quilting.

1. Set the seam before pressing it. Place the sewn unit on the ironing board, wrong side out, and lower the iron onto the fabric for a few seconds. This merges the thread and fabric.

how to set a seam patchwork quilt
'Set' the seam by pressing the seam allowances
together on the wrong side.

2. Press the seam. Open the sewn unit and place it wrong side up on the ironing board. Fold the seam allowance to the darker side, then press the seam flat, lowering and lifting the iron. Alternatively, you can finger press the seam open and press the seam flat.

pressing patchwork quilt seams to dark side pressing patchwork quilt seams open
Open the sewn unit right side down and press the seam
allowance to the darker side.
Alternatively, you can press the seam allowance open.


3. Finish. Flip the sewn unit over so the right side is facing up and press again.

finish pressing patchwork quilt seams
Finish by pressing the seam from the front..
Now that you know how to press seams, why not try a simple patchwork quilt pattern?

We have our Back to Basics Quilt Kit with pre-cut fabric included as well as several other patchwork patterns and more in the Quilting Daily shop.

P.S. Do you prefer to press seams flat or open? Leave a comment below!

Featured Product

Back to Basics Quilt Pattern + Fabric Kit

Availability: Out Of Stock
Was: $84.00
Sale: $50.95


This modern quilting pattern from International Quilt Festival: Quilt Scene 2013/2014 featuring fun blocks of white and patterened fabric comes with pre-cut fabric to create the quilt top.


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+ Add a comment


on 17 Apr 2014 11:35 AM

I like to press mine open. Pressing gets too bulky with many seams, and hard to quilt over to get smooth lines.

M A Doyle wrote
on 19 Apr 2014 1:25 PM

Actually it depends on the pattern that I'm doing and the fabric; also if I'm hand quilting or machine quilting..  I had been trained to always do the press towards the side of the darker fabric but have started reading about open seams, which was how I was trained for garment sewing, so now feel empowered to do either depending on what will work best.

MAK3 wrote
on 19 Apr 2014 11:35 PM

Most of the time, I'll press to one side. I like the way the sides lock against each other when I sew the seam. But that makes the area too bulky, I press the seams open.

MGQuilts wrote
on 20 Apr 2014 5:28 PM

I've been quilting for years and have always pressed toward the darker side but now I'm learning that opened seams can present smoother intersections. I'm always learning new things.