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 Quilting Techniques : Pressing Quilt Blocks

When asked, very few quilters will cite pressing fabric as their favorite part of the quilting process. Though rarely given much thought, proper pressing can have a significant impact on a finished projects's appeararance.

Beyond removal of wrinkles, there are many reasons to press quilt blocks repeatedly during the cutting and assembly stages. Among the reasons for pressing are :

    to prevent distortion of newly cut pieces prior to sewing
    to allow edges to better align and improve the accuracy of piecing
    to reduce the accumulation of fabric under a quilt block
    to clearly identify seam allowances requiring trimming
    to prevent distortion of a finished block's appearance
    to properly align and straighten seams
    to simplify the process of matching seams within and between blocks
Pressing Technique

There is a difference between pressing and ironing. Pressing is technique whereby the weight of the iron and its heat smooth away wrinkles and restore the fabric's shape. Ironing, however, involves vigorously moving the iron over the fabric and applying pressure downwards. Fabric pieces and finished blocks should always be pressed, never ironed, to avoid stretching them out of shape. If pressing does not provide satisfactory results on larger pieces of fabric, however, the iron may be gently moved over the surface as long as little pressure is applied.

There is some debate whether the seams of a finished block should be pressed open or to one side. Some believe that pressing the seam allowance to one side can strengthen the seam and simplify the process of matching seams between blocks. While this may be a matter of preference, seams pressed open are more likely to unravel if left unfinished for some time. To avoid this risk, gently knot the thread at either end of the pressed-open seam. The greatest benefits of pressing seams fully open is the reduction of bulk and simplification of sewing a true quarter-inch seam. There is one situation, though, where one pressing technique is preferable. For quilt blocks including with white or light colored fabric, the seam allowance should always be pressed to one side over the darker fabric, to prevent it from showing through.

To press fabric pieces, assembled segments or a full quilt block, use the following steps :

1.Set the iron's heat level appropriately based upon the fabric.

2.Place fabric pieces right-side down on an ironing board. After sewing, assembled units should remain unopened and placed on an ironing board.

3.Set the iron either directly on top of the fabric piece to smooth wrinkles or along the unopened seam of the assembled unit to set the seam.

4.Allow the assembled unit to cool for a moment before opening it and laying it right-side down on the ironing board.

5.Gently work open the seam allowance with the fingers.

6.Follow the finger's opening movements with the iron, gently working the seam flat against the ironing board. Avoid applying too much pressure, as this will stretch the fabric. Use the weight of the iron instead.

7.For longer seams, raise and lower the iron along the full length for best results.

8.Flip the assembled unit or fabric piece over and press the other side to remove any remaining wrinkling.

9.Look over the fabric or unit to insure seams are properly and fully pressed.

Steamed Pressing versus Dry Pressing

Whether or not to use steam during pressing is a matter of personal preference, as well as the fabric being used. In some cases, better results can be achieved by using one instead of the other. The major benefits of steam are crisper seam allowances and better squaring of a skewed block. Dry pressing, on the other hand, runs less of a risk of stretching the fabric, as dampened fibers are more pliable. Dry pressing also lessens the risk of fabrics bleeding onto each other.

Some quilters find that a happy medium works best. Rather than using a steam setting on their iron, some keep a spritzer bottle on hand to mist fabric on an as needed basis instead.

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