Spot On Seams

How to decide which way to press your patchwork seams

Patchwork isn’t just about sewing; how you press your blocks is also really important and the wrong pressing choices can make or break a project!

Seams in a patchwork project can be either press to one side or open. Both of these options have pros and cons, and for that reason I’m likely to use both in the majority of my makes. Here’s a quick run down (note: there are lots more but these are just the ones I come across most frequently)

Pressing to the side:

  • keeps the seams stronger (pro)
  • makes stitch in the ditch much easier and more secure (pro)
  • seams can be “nested” to help line up the seams when you sew two units or blocks together (pro)
  • which ever part of the block you press a seam towards will emphasis that area because it lifts that section up a little (pro and con!)
  • as a press to the side seam has two layers of fabric it can add to the bulk of a block in places (con)
  • the bulk of seams can make free motion quilting a little harder (con) but this can be easily overcome with practice and by slowing down

Pressing open:

  • there is less bulk as the two layers of fabric from the seams are separated (pro)
  • the lack of bulk makes all over free motion quilting easier when you are a beginner (pro)
  • all aspected of the patchwork design are at the same “level” as nothing is pushed to the top by the seams (pro and con!)
  • seams aren’t as strong because there is no fabric behind the sewn seam (con)
  • seams can be harder to match up as you aren’t able to nest (con) but this can be overcome with pinning

When you’re deciding how to press the various seams in your patchwork project I think it is important to keep in mind how you may want to quilt the project (e.g. if you want to stitch in the ditch around parts of your blocks, make sure those have seams pressed to the side).

Everlasting Star block pressing

When making my Everlasting Star quilt I’d recommend using a mixture of pressing seams open and to the side to help avoid bulk. But even if you are making a different block design, you can use these hints as a way to press when you are using a mixture of units like half square triangles and different sized squares.

  • I press open the half square triangle seams before trimming down to size. In this design the HSTs have different style block units all around them which is why I choose to press these open. In an all HST project I would probably press to the side for strength.
  • For the little diamond units I use a mix of pressing to the side and open. The two HSTs together are pressed to the side so that when those two units come together, I can nest those seams so the diamond matches up perfectly. When the two halves go together, I then press those seams open because of where they will be going into the block later on.
  • I press open the corner square triangle seams. The seams wouldn’t need to be open when looking at just one block but once the blocks come together to make the quilt, it’s easier to match the pressed open seams because if they are pressed to the side she might not match to the next block.
  • And again for these units I press to the side so I can nest the seams.

Here are all the units coming together. Most of the pressed to the side seams of these units will nest together to finish the block (but not all of them…nothing is perfect in patchwork!) and you can see that those pressed open seams of the dimond units are being sewn to one square so pressing them open will reduce the bulk and keep that central square looking more even.


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