How to Fan Center Seams to Reduce Bulk in Four Patch Quilt Blocks

  • Fan Those Center Seams to Reduce Bulk in Four Patch Quilt Blocks

    Press Four Patch Quilt Blocks to Reduce Bulky Seams
    Janet Wickell

    There's no single 'best' way to press four patch quilt blocks, but one pressing technique helps you reduce bulk where seams meet at the center of a block. The method is especially helpful when sewing four patches created with small squares, where allowances might cover a hefty portion of the block's reverse side.

    Basic four patch quilt blocks are sewn with four squares of equal size. The blocks can be assembled by sewing individual squares together or by using strip piecing techniques.

    • Individual squares are a good choice when you're making a scrap quilt, or if you have lots of same-sized fabric squares.
    • Strip piecing is a good choice when you sew many identical blocks, but the technique can be modified for scrap quilting by sewing with a variety of fabrics.

    Four Patch Row Configurations

    Four patch blocks are usually made up of two light and two dark squares. A dark square is sewn to a light square to create a row, and then a second row is assembled in the same way. Rows are joined to form a four patch block (left image in photo).

    If you're a new quilter, take a look at a four patch quilt block pattern for strip piecing assembly instructions.

    Make a Test Four Patch Quilt Block

    1. Cut two dark squares of the same size. Cut two more squares of the same size, but choose a light fabric.
    2. Align a dark square and a light square right sides together with all edges matched. Sew along one edge of the pair to join them with a quarter inch seam allowance.
    3. Place a medium hot iron onto the unopened unit to set the seam.
    4. Carefully press the seam allowance towards the dark square.
    5. Repeat to make another two-square row.
    6. Place the two rows right sides together and all edges matched—contrasting squares should be opposite each other in adjoining rows.
    7. Place the matched rows under your sewing machine's presser foot, with a darker square in the matched set positioned on top and farthest away from your body so that it moves under the foot first. That position lets the bottom row's seam allowance flow perfectly under the presser foot. Try sewing in the opposite direction and you'll see how easy it is to 'catch' the seam allowance with feed dogs.
    8. Join the rows with a quarter inch seam. Press as sewn to set the seam.
    9. Press the new seam allowance in either direction (middle image of photo).

    Fan the Middle Seam Intersection

    1. Use your fingers to open a few stitches where seams meet at the block's center. Don't worry, this will not harm your quilt block.
    2. Twist (fan out) the center just a bit, pushing the dark seam allowances towards the dark squares and light allowances towards light squares—illustrated in the far right image.
    3. Press.

    Notice that only the horizontal seam allowance is split. The prior seam allowances remain the same.

    Is this the only way to press four patch quilt blocks? Certainly not, but it's an option, and a method that can be used to relieve bulk in many other types of blocks, too—try it with the central intersection of ​pinwheel quilt blocks.

    Easy Quilts Made With Four-Patch Quilt Blocks