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QOTD - Press seams open or to the side?

12 years ago

How do you all press your seams?

I first learned to press my seams to the side, and became frustrated that my block sizes were smaller than called for.

So I started pressing seams open, and found block sizes came out correct sizes.

But I experimented with sewing scant 1/4" seams, smaller thread size (50 wt) and moving my needle position a couple notches to the right when sewing the seams. I can then press to the side and get a fairly accurate block size.

I'm trying to press to the side for all the Lotto blocks in this forum, but for other projects I sometimes still like to press seams open for a flatter look.

Please share your ideas and experiences.

Julie, who still considers herself a beginning quilter...

Comments (16)

  • msmeow
    12 years ago

    I usually still press them to one side, except often the last seam joining 2 halves I will press open.

    Way back when everyone hand pieced and quilted, seams were pressed to one side to keep the batting from "bearding" (coming through the seams between the stitches). Now with bonded battings and machine stitches, that isn't a problem any more.

    I still press to the darker side, though, to help keep the darker fabric of the seam from showing through on the front. It also helps a lot with nesting the seams so they match.


  • toolgranny
    12 years ago

    My standard is pressing to the side. But there are some patterns like a mariner's compass where pressing open on seams where many other points meet just makes sense to reduce bulk.

  • nanajayne
    12 years ago

    I usualy press to the side and try and plan the direction so seams will nest. (that is what I There are times when open seams are called for eg. set in seam but I find them time consuming and don't feel they are as strong as when pressed to the side.
    That is just my thought but as many others do press open it appears to be a successful technique so do what is comfortable.

  • teresa_nc7
    12 years ago

    I've always pressed to the side, hardly ever press open. And yes, it's hard for me to sew a half-inch seam in clothing construction as it was always, always, 5/8". Guess I've just been sewing too long to change some things.

    Since I got that lovely 1/4" piecing foot for my machine, my joining of blocks is so much better. Not only does this foot help, I just feel that I have achieved more precision in my accuracy over the years.


  • barbara_l
    12 years ago

    I press to one side. I feelwhen I sew that the seams nestle together much better and I can feel them lying flat when sewing.

  • rosajoe_gw
    12 years ago

    I was taught to press to the dark side. Now depending on the pattern I'll press the seams open to make the block flater and to reduce the bulk.

    I tried on a quilt to be consistant about pressing them open and it does take more time. On some blocks it's just too much trouble!!

  • luvtosharedivs
    Original Author
    12 years ago

    Thanks for your replies, everyone.
    You all responded about the same as Kate did in an e-mail message. I need to strive for more side pressing, as it seems to go faster than struggling to press seams open.

    Maybe doing some of both in a block, depending on which way all the seams will lay together is something one needs to plan as they go.


  • magothyrivergirl
    12 years ago

    Julie, I'm a little late replying, but I had the same problem you are having. I compensated for it by moving the needle position, something many of us do.

    I "hear" you asking ~ how to achieve/maintain a true 1/4" seam that results in the accurate/correct block size?
    I did use a scant 1/4" foot. Are you using one? It has a little fence on the side to help guide the fabric.

    I recommend - use a scant 1/4" foot - than test with the thread you like to use to see if you are getting a true 1/4"
    There are various methods using very accurately cut strips, or graph paper , even lined index cards. (Google or look in a basic quilting book if you have one). This will determine if you need to move your needle position to get that accurate 1/4" seam.
    Next - when pressing - with the seam closed, press to relax the stitching. Flip the block over the seam and with the edge of your iron, repress the seam on the top making sure you get a sharp straight flat seam. This is where an iron with a nice edge (not thick & rolled) is important. Cheap, small, hot iron.

    The more seams in a block, the more inaccurate your block will be, if you are off even 1/16" on your seam.

    Long story:

    My problem turned out to be the ankle on the sewing machine.
    I always had to move my needle position & I complained constantly about it to the dealer. She said just drop the machine off-we can calibrate & adjust the needle position- it should be perfectly in the center. I never took the machine in - it was easier to move the needle position :). When I was preparing to go to Retreat this year, I wanted to take my Featherweight. My dealer told me my ankle from my Pfaff would fit my FW & I could then use my Pfaff feet. When I tried it at home - the 1/4 seam was off! and no way to move needle position on the FW. I took my ankle into the dealer, she gave me a new one, saying she had never heard of an ankle not being accurate. The new ankle solved all the seam problems on both machines!
    The ankle is the small part that the foot snaps onto.
    My point is, after you test for accurate scant 1/4" seam allowance - can you get it with the needle in the center position before pressing? If you can, then you have to perfect your pressing technique.

    To answer your question - when I had to adjust the needle position, I pressed seams open alot more - just like you are doing. Now, I only press open to reduce bulk, or if the dark will shadow under the white.

    One of my teachers said, press to the side with the least resistance - she did not believe in ever pressing seams open, but her seams were all willy-nilly pressed. Her quilts nice, but not award winning :)

    As for as the Lotto blocks, I personally would rather receive an accurate, well sewn block, that was pressed flat, open or to the side - doesn't matter, and all the threads clipped. After it is quilted, you can't tell how it was pressed.

    Yes, I know I am picky!LOL

  • rosajoe_gw
    12 years ago

    I just learned what an ankle is lol!!!!!!

  • magothyrivergirl
    12 years ago

    Rosa ~ It's that part that connects your foot to your leg silly girl :) On you & your sewing machine! heeheehee!

  • mary_c_gw
    12 years ago

    Very thoughtful and informative reply, Marsha! I'm fussy too, LOL.

    I think the most valuable advice is first to check carefully that the seam allowance IS a scant 1/4". After that, the pressing is key to getting a flat and nice block that measures up (yes, bad pun intended!).

    I have won a couple of block lotto drawings in the past, and I will say 99% of the blocks were great, and the ones that weren't had pressing problems as opposed to sewing problems. I was able to press them into shape with little trouble.

    Relax, Julie, and press open if needed! I frequently do, because I tend to choose blocks where 8 seams come together in the center.

    We all want your block lotto experience to be fun.

  • luvtosharedivs
    Original Author
    12 years ago

    Thanks so much for giving me a detailed description of your experiences! Yes, I have a 1/4" foot with a "fence" on it, and I LOVE it! I move the needle two notches to the right, and I am getting accurate "scant" 1/4" seams. Yes, I know my ankle well enough. I'm always removing it to install my walking foot or FM foot.

    I pretty sure it's the darn pressing I need work on! I will have to check my iron...actually my Mom's iron, since mine dropped and cracked. Her's is very old. Maybe it's time to invest in a cheap hot iron! I DID by a mini iron with a gift card, but haven't used it yet...thought I'd save it for paper piecing whenever I get around to learning that technique. I think the mini iron would be too small though, for using on larger pieced blocks.

    As for the lotto blocks, I like the look on the back, with the seams pressed to the side...looks more professional.

    Thanks for the "relax" wish! I know it takes more time to press seams open, so I will continue to do that for a flatter look on my projects, and like you say, expecially when many points come together!

    I DO want to keep practicing on pressing the seams to the side though, as practice makes perfect.

    Thanks again for all the great advice!


  • magothyrivergirl
    12 years ago

    Julie - have fun and continue submitting blocks to the Lotto - it is an incredible learning experience in piecing, following the directions, and color. It is supposed to be enjoyable without making a big commitment to a large project.

    The surface that you iron on is very important. I find the padded covers on ironing boards to cushy for pressing accurately. Make a board - I have 2 - a small one next to my sewing machine and a larger one that sits on top of my ironing board. I covered each with pillow ticking, then muslin that gets tossed when it it gets to nasty & brown.
    I've linked to a good You Tube on making a board.

    Your Mom's old iron is probably perfect to use.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Sharon Schamber

  • bev2009
    12 years ago

    Thanks for the lesson here. I have a lot to learn. A confession, I forgot to measure my blocks before sending them in for the Jan lotto. I hope they are correct!

  • luvtosharedivs
    Original Author
    12 years ago

    Wow! Excellent video, Marsha.

    I think I will be making a trip to the hardward store this weekend:))
    Have to ask hubby if he has a staple gun around here, or at his shop.

    Thanks so much for the link!


  • buteau3rd
    12 years ago

    I have been using a cardboard bolt holder that I got (free) from Joann's. I used one layer of leftover batting covered with muslin and made 2 extra muslin covers. Very lightweight for bringing to classes, or using next to my sewing machine........and free!