Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Quilt Seams ~ Pressing Open or to the Side...



When I made my first quilt, the tutorial I followed said to press the seams open, so I made the assumption that all quilters press their seams open. For my second quilt, I didn't follow a tutorial or pattern, so I again pressed the seams open.

Since finishing my Scrappy Blocks Quilt, I've discovered that not all quilters press their seams open. I read an interesting post, Let's Talk: Pressing Seams Open vs to the Side written by Julie, from The Crafty Quilter. Julie encouraged her readers to leave a comment on the topic. Lots of different points of view... some only use one method or the other, many use mainly one method and others chop and change depending on the project.


One point which got me thinking, was that pressing to the side would make the seams stronger than pressing open. We were always taught to press all plain seams open when sewing clothes. Sometimes I still do, but more often than not, I'll neaten with an overlocker (serger) and press to one side. 

When I learnt to sew, we were using a treadle sewing machine which did not have a zig zag stitch. Plain seams, which were always 5/8", were neatened by sewing a small hem on the raw edges of the seam. To do anything other than press the seams flat would have been too bulky.

In recent times, I've made a few pairs of children's shorts with the crotch seams pressed open, neatened on either side and then topstitched on either side. There is more strain on the crotch seam than the rest of the seams in pants. The stitching broke on one pair of shorts and I re-evaluated pressing the seams open. Here is my reasoning... If the seam is pressed to the side and then topstitched, the topstitching will take some of the strain. With a seam pressed open, the topstitching (done on both sides of the seam) will not take any of the strain.

Fast forward to reading the post on quilt seams, and it made sense to me that if the seams were pressed to the side and then quilted along the length of the seam, then it would make for a stronger seam. I thought I'd give this theory a try and so, the quilt top pictured here has all seams pressed to the side.


How strong the seams are as compared to my first two quilts, only time will tell. What I did notice was that on the right side of the quilt top, some of the seams were not pressed as flat. I don't mean bulkier because there's an extra piece of fabric behind, but not pressed as flat at, or next to, the stitching of the seam line. It's not a big problem, but noticeable to my eye.

Perhaps I need to improve my pressing skills. I know I still have a tendency to iron, rather than press.

Speaking of the strength of seams, I ALWAYS backstitch at the start and end of every seam I sew when I am making clothes, so I naturally do the same when quilting. This backstitching is often cut off when squaring or trimming a block or the quilt itself. In addition, other seams are cut in the process of making a quilt. I know my backstitching won't come undone with clothes I have sewn, but I don't have the same confidence with the stitching of the seams in my quilts. 

I know that where a seam is cut, it will be sewn over by another seam, but is this enough to prevent the stitches from coming undone? Does the stitch length have anything to do with the strength of the seams?

I have learnt SO much on my new quilting adventure and much to my surprise, I am REALLY enjoying it, but, oh, I have SO, SO much yet to learn... questions, questions, questions!


I'll give you details about the fabrics and the process of making my third quilt, when it's been quilted.. Tomorrow I'll pick up some batting and hopefully the quilting itself won't take too long. Once it's finished (if all works out OK), this quilt will be donated to the Springwood Winmalee Bushfire Quilt Appeal. Last October, over 200 homes were lost in devastating bushfires in the lower Blue Mountains. Residents who lost their homes will be invited to choose a quilt towards the end of March. Wish me luck with the quilting and finishing in time.

Since making this quilt top, I've found some more posts on pressing seams. Some I've already read, but most I've just skimmed through. 

I haven't yet decided which way I will press the seams on my next quilt. Funnily enough, even though I think the seams may(?) be stronger if pressed to the side, I think I'm sort of leaning towards pressing the seams open. I would love to hear your thoughts. 
  • Which way you press quilt seams and why?
  • The strength of seams which are cut and then sewn over with another seam.

... Pam

Edited to add: The Barcelona Strip and Flip quilt is finished.

33 comments:

  1. I press open. It's worked for me so far but I've also contemplated pressing to the sides to nest seams for more accurate piecing. Haven't tried it yet though. The quilt looks fantastic and such a great cause! xx

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  2. When I first started quilting, I pressed to the side. Then I learned about pressing seams open and tried that method. I now prefer to press seams open and love how this results in a flat and smooth the quilt top. However, if you like to stitch in the ditch, there isn't one. I have no trouble matching seams when pressed open. Looking forward to seeing your finished quilt. Love the colours! And the cause!

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  3. I press open. I don't quilt that often so I didn't even know some would do it to the side. I learned pressing open and never backstitching. I used to when I first tried, but it really makes a difference and I stopped for good.

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  4. I press to the side so my 4-patch will "lock" and give a better point intersection. This works well when sewing rows together, and all the blocks lock together so the points all match along the entire quilt top.

    With a skinny sashing, pressing towards the sashing gives more 3d effect to make the sashing pop up in the quilt.

    blocks such as dresdan plate require pressing all the fans to one side to have enough space for the seams.

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    1. Thanks so much for your input, Paul. I have so much to learn and am enjoying the journey.

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  5. Really like how the colours sit so beautifully together on your quilt. A wonderful gesture of care for others in a really tough situation. When I first learned about patchwork (from classes in a patchwork shop) I was taught to 'press to the dark side' (ie whichever of the 2 fabrics was the darker). The challenge sometimes came when adding light borders - ensuring that the seam did indeed stay on its side (maybe I need to learn to press better too). More recently I've started pressing open and I like the way things sit flatter too. Maybe I'm a 'swapper' depending on the situation.

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  6. i press to the side. i also use a smaller stitch length than some people i know. i find it easier to match seams up when pressing to the side, too.

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  7. I mainly press open. But it really depends on the project. If I have a lot of seams to match (bargello), I press to the side so the seams nest and curves. As for stitch length - it definitely makes a difference in the seam strength. I use a small stitch (smaller the stitch the stronger the seam), 1.5 - 1.9. I used 1.5 until recently. Honestly, the only reason I increased it is because if you have to rip those babies out - it is NOT fun! Try it on a scrap piece of fabric, sew a small stitch seam and rip it - you will immediately see the difference :)

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  8. I am stopping by from lets bee social-sometimes I like to just press seams open like in dressmaking-less bulk for me that way pretty quilt

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  9. This is a great post - your explanation about top stitching taking the strain when seams are pressed to the side vs open is very clear and helpful! I used to press open from my early sewing training, but mostly press to the side when quilting now unless a pattern says otherwise.

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  10. I've always pressed to the side. When the seams come together they lock in place. If there are 8 piecies of material coming together I will try to press those seems open, but I always end up burning my little fingers when I try pressing seams open

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  11. I press open, but I think that pressing to the side does give you a sturdier seam. However, because you want to "nest" the seam allowances, you really have to plan in advance which seams to press in which direction, otherwise you get lumps and bumps!

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  12. Nice quilt, however you pressed it :) I press to the side most of the time. I don't do well quilting all-over designs so my seams usually are not criss-crossed with quilting lines to help strengthen them. Also, pressing open takes away the option to stitch in the ditch - stitching in the ditch of an open seam is just stitching over the seam's stitches instead of on fabric and the quilting disappears. Obviously I have pressed open once or twice to find this out!

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  13. Hi Pam, I'm glad my pressing discussion has reached more readers! I press to the side for most of my piecing, but if there are a lot of bulky seams then I will press open. Many of my complicated blocks have most of the seams pressed to the side until I get to the last couple of row-seams. These are pressed open. I like the nesting that occurs when pressing to the side and the strength of the seam. It's important that people use the method that works for them!
    Julie @ The Crafty Quilter

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  14. I was taught to press towards the side. I press towards the dark fabric or the side with less bulk. I pressed one star quilt open because of bulk created at the center, but was warned that you can't stitch in the ditch. I also find that it's fiddly to try and open a seam up evenly. Very pretty quilt. I was tempted by Barcelona a time or two.

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  15. What a great post. I like you was taught to press seams open when sewing. drilled into me. I have two boys - I sew ALL their seams as pressed together, overlocked together and then top stitched down on one side. This is for tops, bottoms or anything as boys are so so hard on stuff. Quilting - I press to the side. I used to hand quilt using EPP(english paper piecing) and they have all worn at the seam line. As it is the same as pressing the seam open. So for quilting (except when using wool and sometimes the japanese taupe fabrics as they are very bulky) I press all to the side and I do not back stitch unless it is a border.

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  16. I've always pressed to the side. Then I started reading the pro's and con's of both ways. So out of curiosity I pressed seams open on a simple, small quilt. It did lay flatter and it did take longer to press seams open. The blocks in the little quilt are all different sizes and sewn row by row, there was no lining up of seams. So I can't say from experience what it is like joining seams when they are pressed open.

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    1. Thanks for joining the discussion, Lea. After a few more quilts, I may be closer to knowing what works for me.

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  17. I tend to press to the side unless I'm following a tutorial that tells me how to press them. Gorgeous quilt x

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  18. I press to the side. If it is just two pieces of fabric, towards the darker. If the end of a seam will join to the edge of another piece, I press so I'm not trying to fold down that seam and adding a bunch of bulk. In the instance of your quilt top above, I would press towards the long sashing so I wouldn't have to try to press all those block seams. I learned to press to one side and I know there is mixed opinion on the "best" way. I think it is preference. Although, I have heard that when pressing seams open you take the chance of the batting bearding through the stitching. Granted, most modern batting isn't prone to this, but that doesn't mean I don't think about it. I love the quilt, by the way.

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  19. I press open. A few people have said above that pressing to the side allows you to nest seams. I find it a lot easier to match seams if they are pressed open.

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  20. When possible, I like to press seams in opposite directions so they "lock" into each other thus requiring fewer pins. I've always back stitched when sewing clothes, so it was a hard habit to break when someone said there is no need to back stitch quilt block seams. Like you, since the ends are usually cut off when square, it didn't make sense. My thinking is that quilting will keep the seams from moving around much. Occasionally, I've worked with fabrics that ravel too easy and I do have to back stitch those so they stay together in all the handling when putting the quilt together. enJOYed your post.

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  21. Pam, your quilt top is gorgeous! The colors are so restful, with just a little pop of brightness in the reds and yellows. You brought up some good questions. Even though I have been sewing for the better part of my life, I still wonder about things like that. I, too, am a firm believer in back stitching---everything!

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  22. Since I learned to backstitch when starting to sew it is such a habit,that I can not seem to break. I also used to press all seams open,but now generally press them to the side when quilting,unless this will result in too much bulk.

    Congratulations on your third quilt finish!

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  23. Great quilt Pam! I usually press my seams to the side and like others find it helps when locking the seams together. Good to hear both sides of the discussion :)

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  24. Gorgeous quilt, Pam!

    Very interesting debate - I haven't done much quilting (yet!) but I have tried both ways. I agree that it's difficult to get a nice flat finish if you press to the side.

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  25. You have attached the worlds most question of quandry! One of those that don't have a right or wrong answer and facts to back each of them up! I think it is just a personal preference. I press open as, in clothing construction where I started, that is was was drilled into me! However, I find personally, that pressing side to side, boy howdy what a chore to make sure one piece is pressed to the left and the next one to the right! And no matter how hard I try, the bottom allowance, often gets flipped and the allowance is wonky when finished. It is also harder to perfectly match side pressed seams (to me at least) but open they match perfectly and if that under allowance gets sewn backwards, it is only one thickness of fabric instead of two which helps with the bulk. So...I think this is one of those things we will have to agree to disagree on! Plus...open presses flatter and with the FMQ'ing on top for strength and the smaller stitch I don't think open will be to much causing problem with tearing when used. But your post was very interesting with all the options to choose from!

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  26. I've always pressed to one side when quilting, but pressed open when making garments or bags! :) That doesn't mean that I haven't cheated and pressed to one side when sewing garments too, lol! Deanna {sewmccool}

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  27. Your quilt is nice, great work, I love to quilt and pressing seams is always a question? I have only followed a pattern once, so I usually press to the side, but each quilt seems to direct you which way to go! Great Post

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  28. Love your quilt. I like to make a lot of quilts with half square triangles - easier to nest the seams if the they are pressed to one side. If I am making a quilt with triangles I press them open.

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    1. Thanks! I'm learning so much with the varied comments and I know I have so much more to learn.

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  29. Love your quilt. I was taught to press towards the dark, but with a lot of my blocks right now I'll have two darks next to each other. I press my seams in opposite directions so they lock. I find it creates a much neater top and I have more points that match. I was worried about having to backstitch seams when I started quilting, but the members of my quilt guild told me it's not necessary. I've been using this method for the past three years and have yet to have problems. If you're having problems getting your seams flat enough you might try a starch alternatives like Best Press. (Not sure if you can get that in Australia, but if you do a search online there are easy recipes to make a Vodka Spray that works just as well.)

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  30. I took a FMQ class, and the national teacher said to press seams with quilting in mind. You can make seams go the way you want them rather than the way they want to go if necessary. With that said I mostly press to the side, and press open if it is bulky (8 points together). I have always heard that if you want to stitch in the ditch that they should not be pressed open, but if you press them open you can stitch over it with a serpentine stitch. I also only back stitch on borders and my backing and I use a 2.0 stitch length. I just wanted to add that I love your quilt! :o)

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