How to Press Quilt Blocks and Quilts for Best Accuracy

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    How to Press Quilts to Improve Quilting Skills

    The reverse side of pressed quilt blocks
    Getty Images

    Accurate Pressing Can Instantly Improve Your Quilting Skills

    Your quiltmaking skills will improve immediately when you learn the how to press quilt blocks. Pressing seam allowances as you work helps eliminate little bits of fabric that become "lost" within seam allowances, creating distortions and making your finished quilt blocks smaller than they should be.

    Careful pressing saves time because your quilt blocks will fit together exactly as they should when it's time to assemble the quilt.

    Let's Look at an Example

    Let's say your quilt block contains a row of pieced units, with a total of ten seam allowances in the row. What if a pencil line width of fabric is caught up in each seam allowance simply because you didn't press? It doesn't sound like much, but multiply that line by 10, and it becomes the difference between stitching an accurate quilt block or a block that won't match up to its neighbors.

    You might argue that if all seams are smaller by the same amount, what difference does it make? Maybe none if you're constructing very simple blocks and sewing identical blocks side by side, but the shortage will cause problems in quilts where different types of blocks are sewn together because each block will be off by a different amount.

    You've perfected your quarter-inch seam allowance, so don't allow inadequate pressing to destroy your work. Get into the habit of pressing each unit as soon as it's assembled and you'll see an immediate improvement in your quiltmaking skills.

    Pressing to set seams before pressing them to the side is one more excellent way to improve accuracy. The method is always good to consider but is especially helpful when you use strip piecing techniques.

    Continue to 2 of 2 below.
  • 02 of 02

    Quilters... Press, Don't Iron!

    How to press a quilt
    The front side of the block from Page 1, along with another for the swap. Janet Wickell

    Let the Heat and Weight of the Iron Do the Work

    Allow the heat and weight of the iron to do the pressing. Avoid moving the iron back and forth vigorously across the surface of your quilt blocks, because the movement will probably stretch them out of shape.

    You can use more movement when pressing large pieces of fabric, and sometimes it's necessary to work into a seam allowance with the tip or side of the iron but take care not to pull and tug with too much enthusiasm.

    Steam or No Steam When Pressing Quilts?

    Quilters disagree on whether or not to steam press. We rarely use steam to press my quilt blocks because we feel it contributes to stretch, but sometimes steam is helpful.

    Steam Pros

    • Careful steam pressing can help you square-up a skewed block.
    • Steam pressing produces crisply pressed seam allowances and fabrics.

    Steam Cons

    • If you tug at a block that's been dampened with steam, it is more likely to stretch.
    • Steam could cause some fabrics to bleed, leaving stains (but hopefully you've already done a bleed test on all of your fabrics).

    I keep a spritzer bottle filled with water on the ironing board. If you need a little moisture, spray mist a specific area to avoid sending loads of hot steam throughout my quilt blocks.

    Try pressing your quilt components and blocks with and without steam to find out which method works best for different situations.

    Do you like the Paths and Stiles quilt block illustrated on this page? Take a look at the quilt block pattern.

    Pressing Quilt Blocks, Step by Step

    1. Turn your iron to the "cotton" setting if pressing cotton patches.
    2. Place the patchwork on your ironing board, unopened, just as it was sewn. The fabric that the seam allowance will be pressed towards should be facing up. Most quilting patterns tell you which way to press seam allowances.
    3. Set the iron down on top of the unopened unit to set the seam.
    4. Let the unit cool a bit then flip the top fabric back gently, using your fingers to fold it away from the bottom fabric along the seam line.
    5. Place the edge of the iron on the lower strip and very gently work it towards and over the seam allowance. Excess pushing and tugging can stretch the fabric, so take care. Allow the heat and weight of the iron to press the seam flat. Raise and lower the iron along the entire length of the seam to finish pressing.
    6. Turn the unit over and press from the back to complete the job.
    7. Remove excess strings as you work (unlike the photo on page 1).

    Inspect the unit from the front. Notice that seam allowances on the back make the front of the unit pooch out a bit, creating lofts that butt into each other for a snug fit when it's time to sew units together.

    Sew Quilt Block Components Into Rows

    1. Sew units together to create rows, then press seams in each row as directed in your pattern.
    2. Sew rows together and press the completed quilt block.

    If your quilt pattern doesn't specify which direction to press, try to press seams that adjoin each other in opposite directions.