Which way do you press your seams? My philosophy is to press them in whatever manner creates flat, accurate blocks. When I got this question via email, I thought it needed a public response, and Let’s Quilt Wednesday is a perfect time to do that.
I read in a quilt book that pressing seams open weakens the seam and when I called our local quilt shop to inquire they also recommended pressing the seam to one side not opening. I wondered why was opening the seams recommended in the Downton Abbey Quilt?
I’m not a purist when it comes to pressing seams. My goal is to achieve a flat block that’s easy to get accurate, match seams, and reduce bulk. Sometimes, especially in a block with many pieces, it’s not practical to always press to one side. When you have too many seams coming together in one spot, it creates a bulky area that’s hard to stitch accurately, and it’s also a bear to quilt through.
I’ve heard of people taking to rubber mallets and steam to flatten bulky seams, but there’s only so much you can do where 8 layers of fabric come together.
Throughout my tutorials and patterns, I never make statements like, “Always press open,” or “Always press to the side.” When I provide pressing instructions, it’s for the purpose of an accurate, flat block.
Lots of things can weaken quilts: using polyester thread to piece it, using poorly-made fabric, not quilting enough, not using a consistent seam allowance, stitching with too long of a stitch… the list goes on and on. But weaken it over what time period? 10 years? 50? 100? 1,000? I have no delusions that my quilts are going to land in some museum or hard-core quilt collector’s hands 100 years from now. If I make a quilt that I use so much it falls apart, I must not have enough quilts. 🙂
I also clip seams on occasion, which would horrify a lot of people not familiar with certain sewing techniques. I started out as a garment seamstress, so I often bring my sewing background into my quilting. If you have a seam going in the complete opposite direction of where you need it to go at a given point, clipping is an option.
Can pressing seams open weaken the seams in a quilt? I think the theory is that once you do that, the only thing holding your units together is thread. You can make the problem worse by stitching in the ditch, because you’re not quilting the fabric, you’re quilting your piecing thread. Then, after the quilt is finished, playing tug-of-war with someone using the finished quilt as the rope, can indeed pop the seams and cause your quilt to fall apart.
However, I think there are things we can do to mitigate this potential ruined quilt nightmare.
First, I don’t recommend pressing seams open on every unit, only where pressing that seam open will enable you to reduce bulk or stitch more accurately when it gets attached to the next piece. So many people struggle with dealing with bulky seams, and pressing open on occasion can help avoid the violence involved in beating up your quilt with a rubber mallet.
A lot of people also piece with the default settings on their sewing machines. Most modern sewing machines these days ship with the stitch length set at 2.5mm. That is an awesome stitch length for garment sewing and home dec (heck, on home dec I’ll even go up to 3.0mm), but it’s a terrible one for piecing. Your stitches can come apart easily, and your batting is more likely to beard through such wide openings. I set my stitch length to to 1-.5 – 1.8mm, so the units can’t just pull apart. It’s a bear to rip out, so I try not to need to do any reverse-sewing. 🙂
When quilting, I avoid stitch-in-the-ditch on pressed open seams. Honestly, I avoid SID whenever I can, because it’s a pain in the neck to do on a long arm. 🙂
Lastly, I don’t play tug of war with my quilts. Not with anyone. 🙂
No matter what, I just encourage people to learn many different ways to do things, and then choose the things that work for them at a given point in time. There are few things that I read about in books or learn from people that I take as gospel. “Always” and “never” get very little use in my vocabulary.
How do you press your seams?