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How to press quilts to make them more accurate

When you’re learning to make quilts, your skills will improve vastly if you can learn how to press quilt blocks properly.

If you discover the right techniques to press seam allowances you’ll soon come to realise that it makes all the difference to the finished look of your quilt.

Learning to properly press seams means that there won’t be any little distortions that result in finished quilt blocks looking much smaller than they should.

It’ll also save time when you come to assemble your quilt.

The pieces will fit together as they should and there won’t me any mismatching of shapes.

Step by step guide to pressing quilts properly

If you have a quilt block with a row of pieced units and these contain a total of ten seam allowances, then thinking about it logically if each of these has just a few millimetres of extra fabric caught up in each seam allowance, then multiply that by ten and it means you may possibly end up with a quilt block that won’t match up to any of its ‘neighbours’ on the quilt.

If you’re putting together a very simple quilt of easy to construct blocks that are sewn side by side then having a little bit of fabric ‘out’ might not be too noticeable.

Problems will definitely arise on a quilt where different types of blocks are sewn together because then each separate block will be ‘out’ by a varying amount.

The finished product will look uneven. If you’ve spent a lot of time getting your sewing right, it’s important to get your seam allowance spot on, and pressing correctly so that your work doesn’t end up on the fabric scrap heap!

Make sure you get into the habit of pressing each seam before moving onto the next quilt block, and checking your work thoroughly.

Pressing seams

Seeing seams by pressing them to the side is another way to make sure you make an accurate quilt. This will be of more benefit if you’re using strip piecing techniques.

Let your iron do the work for you

Just as you would when ironing your clothes, you need to let the heat and weight of the iron do the work for you.

Don’t continually move the iron back and forth quickly across the surface of the quilt.

The heat and the movement may end up stretching the fabric out of shape.

More movement will work better on larger pieces of fabric, but then it’s better to simply use the tip or side of the iron for greater care and accuracy.

Is steam a good idea?

Amongst quilters, this is a matter of debate.

Some like it as they feel it gives extra smoothness and accuracy.

Others worry it may stretch the fabric too much. It depends on personal preference and how confident you feel that you won’t be too heavy handed!

Some pro steamers say that careful steam pressing can help you square-up a skewed block and you will find that gentle steam pressing produces crisply pressed seam allowances and fabrics.

However, if you use too much vigour and movement when steaming and continually go over a block that's been dampened with steam it is more likely to stretch and distort.

Steam can also cause some fabrics to bleed, which means you may get staining on other materials.

Try a combination of steam or no steam to see which you prefer.

It’s trial and error after all!

How to press quilt blocks

Plug in your iron and turn it to the cotton setting. Put your quilt on the ironing board.

The seam allowance fabric should be facing up. Carefully put the iron the unopened unit.

This will set the seam.

Once the unit has cooled slightly, turn the fabric back gently and fold it away from the bottom fabric along the seam line.

The edge of the iron needs to be gently run along the lower strip and along the seam allowance.

Turn the unit over and press from the back.

Now, look at the entire unit from the front aspect.

You should find that the seams on the back make the front of the quilt ‘pouch’ a little bit.

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