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Pressing seams open or to one side

by Noreen
(Thornhill, Ontario, Canada)

I've always pressed my seams to one side but now I think it might be better to press them open.

Is there a better way?


Hi Noreen!

The best way is the way that works best for you!

Traditionally, seams were pressed to the dark side:

  1. To prevent the dark fabric from shadowing through a lighter one;

  2. To prevent batting from coming through the stitches in the seam allowance; and...

  3. To reduce bulk where seam allowances come together.

In clothing construction, seams are almost always pressed open so as not to add noticeable bulk.

As batting has gotten better and better (i.e. way less bearding) quilters seemed to start pressing their seams open, too.

I come from a garment sewing background (been sewing since before I could cross the street by myself!), so I do press many of my seams open. 'Typically to reduce bulk or prevent shadowing.

Where's the ditch...?

Some will argue that when the seam allowance is pressed open, that there is no ditch to quilt in. Personally, I find that my stitches are better hidden in seams that are pressed open. If I accidentally stitch out of the ditch (and I do), I'm not stitching on top of three layers of fabrics—those stitches DO show.

I like the flatter appearance of an open seam and do not experience any noticeable bearding. My batting of choice these days is Hobbs Heirloom 100% Wool.

One final consideration when seams are pressed open. There's no seam allowance to nest. But since I'm a pinner anyway, it's work I was already doing. If you're NOT a pinner, piecing takes longer with open seams.

Paper Piecing

When I am joining paper piecing sections together that have lots of stitching lines coming into the seam, as on 'English Roses' below...

English Roses, a paper pieced quilt

...I add and then cut 1/2" seam allowances and then stitch the sections together.

It's much easier to press that gnarly seam open when it's bigger. After pressing to my satifaction, I'll then go in with a pair of scissors and hand-trim the SA to 1/4".

The Best Pressing Technique

Regardless of whether or not you try pressing them open, I heartily suggest you try our Best Technique for Pressing Quilt Blocks—it's the bomb!

Your blocks will come out flatter than you ever expected. It doesn't matter if you pressed them open, to one side or even paper pieced them. Please do give it a try!

So in the end, it really is up to you. And it is quite possible, that like me, you'll end up pressing in different ways, for different projects, for different reasons...all with the same intent of nice, flat blocks that are easy to quilt because they aren't bulky.

I hope this has helped.

Readers, how do you press? Your thoughts, comments and experiences are ALWAYS welcome. Share using the 'comments' link below. Thank you!


Julie Baird

Comments for Pressing seams open or to one side

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saving your fingers
by: Anonymous

Hi! I've done the ruler thing and I really like it.

One tip I use in opening my seams after pressing them together to smush the stitches into the fabric is to use a painter's palette knife. I slip it into the end of the seam and move it along the seam, opening it as I go. Then, I press it open.

Somehow it seems much easier than trying to get my fat fingers in that tiny space.

Hope that helps.

No hot fingers!

From the Editor: Terrific share! I've got little sausages for fingers and it can be trying (to say the least) to get a quarter-inch seam open to press.

Thanks for writing!


Julie Baird

Seam pressing
by: Vera Lynn

I open my seams to get a flatter block. I’m also a long arm quilter and I’ve quilted quilts that make me shudder because they’re so bulky.

The machine hits those bulky seams and bounces off them which causes a big no-no in your quilting design. That sticks out like a sore thumb. So, I press open but I finger press using my nail first to set the seam. Works perfectly every time.

I’ve never used a ruler or a magazine to hold the seam until it cools off. I think that’s a fabulous idea and I’ll be trying that tomorrow.

Thanks so much for that idea and I’ll be passing it on to my students.

Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you get the credit for that. After 44 years of quilting, I’m still learning.

Loved your article.

From the Editor: So happy to share what I know. It's a two-way street; I learn so much from my readers!



Pressing seams
by: Margerite

Great tips on pressing thank you so much, have been sewing for years and years it seems but fairly new to quilting and to press seams open has always been second nature, I am fast learning that there are few hard and fast rules to quilting.

From the Editor: My background was garment construction, particularly, and it's amazing how many techniques transfer to help with our quilting. The hardest part is to remember to try them.

You're right! There's ALWAYS more than one way to get things done in quilting.



by: Anonymous

In my limited experience with making quilt tops, I find for the small block quilt it is better to iron seams open. The reason is it makes it easier to quilt, whether I am doing the quilting or sending it to my favorite long arm quilter.

And, the hint about pressing the block and then putting a ruler or magazine over the block until it cools completely is spot on. Where were you when I first took up this passion for quilting? My lessons were learned the hard way, but I would never have thought of weighting the block down. Genius!!!

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