Christa’s Soapbox – Why I Press My Seams Open

For those that have followed my last few quilt alongs, you will notice that I am a big advocate of pressing my seams open. So I thought I would let you know why.

Pressing OpenFor starters, it makes my blocks lie really, really flat. I used to rush though the quiltmaking process, ending up with less than ideal workmanship. Over the last couple of years, I’ve started slowing things down and have noticed how utilizing good techniques really improves the quality of my work.

Additionally, since I’m writing more pattern instructions and tutorials, I need to be able to take clear pictures with easy to follow diagrams. Quite honestly, it’s such a pain figuring out which way to press the seams ahead of time so they can abutt correctly. Pressing seams flat solves that problem, too!

Press Seams OpenI think it is an old wives’ tale (or perhaps old quilter’s tale?) that seams always need to be pressed to the light side of the fabric. Yes, the conventional wisdom is that it makes for easier hand quilting, if all you are doing is quilting 1/4″ away from the ditch. But since I machine quilt the heck out of everything, this is no longer a concern. Moreover, it’s pretty darn bulky to quilt through extra layers of fabric where the overlapping seams intersect.

Press Seams OpenTrust me, I’ve broken quite a few needles when trying to free motion quilt through an area where bulky seams were pressed to the side. Fortunately, when quilting the lines in my quilt above, I had pressed every stinking seam open so quilting was a breeze and the seam lines blended together.

Wooden Seam RollerYes, it is time consuming to press all of the seams open, but the results are well worth the effort. I love to listen to audio books while I press and the time literally seems to fly by. πŸ™‚

Also, I’ve gotten into the habit of opening the seams first with a wooden seam roller, then going back over them with a hot dry iron. ItΒ  works for me!

40 thoughts on “Christa’s Soapbox – Why I Press My Seams Open

  1. RobinSue says:

    Often I am late to the party – my apologies. I too prefer to press open seams, in the end they are easier to work with and look much nicer. The wooden roller just made my list of future purchases

  2. Marjorie says:

    I am so glad you did this post! I have always pressed my seams open–I learned to sew about 20 years before I quilted. I think it makes the block neater and easier to sew. I hate when people tell me the “rules”. Many rules are made to be broken! πŸ™‚

  3. Susan P says:

    I agree that pressing the seams open is the way to go, especially when working on a block with lots of pieces. How about steam. Do you press using steam? On another subject, do you pre-wash any of your fabric? If you’re using pre-cuts, you can’t pre-wash those, however, can they then be combined with fabric that has been pre-washed (I have lots of fabric in my closet that has been pre-washed,) What do people do these days?

    • Christa says:

      All great questions! No, I don’t use steam and yes, I prewash all my fabrics unless using precuts. When I use precuts, I wash the finished quillt with a couple of dye magnet sheets in the wash to catch any excess dye. A good brand is shout color catchers which you can get at WalMart.

  4. Irene says:

    I have a seam roller that came with a wall papering kit, The roller is wood and smoothly finished. Will that be OK for seam rolling?

  5. Karee says:

    My little roller is from Lowe’s in the wallpaper aisle. It has a very slight curve on the roller which keeps it on the seam better for me. Also, I use Thermal Thimbles by Drtiz, they are 1.5″ silicone fingertip sleeves. I love them!
    I am an open seamer! Have been working on a way to open seam when a paper piece… Will let you know if I come up with any tips.

  6. Peggy says:

    Christa,

    I have been quilting for 16 years. Many people say opening the seams breaks down the integrity of the quilt. I agree with you. If there are a lot of seams, I’ll open them every time, I don’t care. Like you, I quilt the heck out of everything and I just haven’t seen a big problem with my quilts staying together.

    I applaud your decision to slow down and be more precise. That is the only thing that has bothered me about the whole modern quilting movement. Precision is still a good thing and I don’t care who you are, it takes practice! Certainly you can’t expect your first things to be perfect and you wouldn’t want to give up because they aren’t but as you learn and practice, you progress and get better. If you don’t do that what’s the point? There are some incredible new quilters out there and I absolutely love watching the changes to things.

    The only other thing I would say is that some modern quilters are trying to reinvent a wheel that has already been changed, upgraded and simplified. A good starting place is to see if it’s already been done and if so was it easier than the way I think I am inventing for the first time? Learning from past experience can be a great thing. Using an easier proven method just gives you more time for creativity!

    I love your blog! Thanks for sharing!

    • Christa says:

      Thanks for your comment, Peggy! The cool thing I’ve noticed about modern quilters I’ve come across is although they are more improvisational, they also care a great deal about good technique πŸ™‚

  7. Judy says:

    I just started pressing my seams open and like it much better. I never knew why they were pressed to one side until reading a blog post about it awhile back and decided to give it a try. I have found that it has been easier to match up my seams and I like that they are not so bulky.

  8. Gayla says:

    I agree with mlwilkie. The only time I stitch to one side is if I’m matching seams with a postage stamp quilt for example. I have trouble burning my fingers too….so I’m ordering one of those wooden rollers! That thing is cool!

  9. GrandyKandy says:

    I never used to iron the seams flat either, but I am also slowing a bit because I want the end result to be nice and flat. It’s funny that you said you listen to audio books while you do this… I do too! Thank goodness for audible.com.

  10. Sarah says:

    The wood seam roller looks like the perfect tool! This is a great post – I often find myself rushing through the quilting part (sidenote: I need to actually watch some of the craftsy classes I’ve enrolled in so I branch out into something other than straightline quilting!), but as of a few months ago I was totally swayed into the world of open seams and don’t think I’ll ever go back! πŸ˜‰

  11. denise says:

    I totally agree. When the new quilting thing became so popular I tried the press to the side. I do not like it or feel comfortable with it. My great grandmother who taught me to quilt always pressed seams open. I still have some of her quilts that are quite worn but seams are still intact!

  12. Emily says:

    I had a few quilt pattern that said to press seams to one side, and I always thought it was odd – it just makes things so bumpy. I will definitely be pressing all my seams open from now on! Thanks for the discussion, as always!

  13. Ann says:

    Interesting argument for open seams. I was taught 22 years ago to not do that I’d you quilt in the ditch. Since I hated quilting back then I always quilted in the ditch. Now its just habit. I tried to do this quilt with open.seams.. but habit kicked in. I also find that a really steamy press will get seams flatter than starched fabric and a hot iron anyday. I’ve been experimenting with this and have come to the conclusion that starch works best (for me) in my EPP projects only. Anyway, my 2 cents on the subject. I do want a seam roller though. My finger tire of finger pressing. πŸ™‚

  14. Debi Bielawski says:

    Christa you are so right. Open seams = flat seams~ press to dark to match points ONLY.
    That was my Gram’s formula….she did not have a pressibg roller but there was a rolling pin from a” Bake Like Mommy” kitchen set.
    Thank for proving again…Gram knows best like you.

  15. mlwilkie says:

    I will typically sew all my seams open as well except when matching seams….for example on a postage stamps matching rows does turn out better (I find) if I press each row to one side and thin alternate the next. Other than the squares I love how flat open seams sit πŸ™‚

  16. msannie says:

    When I first started quilting I wondered why seams were pressed to one side and figured it was just a quilter’s time-saving convention. Now that I’ve been pressing them open, the block is MUCH nicer both on the front and on the back, and so worth the extra care. It’s wonderful not to have that little bump where seams join!

  17. Leigh Anne says:

    You’ve got me considering it πŸ™‚ I think it will take me a while to convert 100% but I can definitely see the benefit. Gonna try it on my next Swoon block and see if it comes together easier than the first LOL

  18. Michele says:

    I only do it sometimes but I’m working my way towards doing it more and more. The problem is that I typically am more likely to burn my fingers but I’m betting that with a roller like that one, that issue will be less of a problem. I’m going to check it out. Thanks for the info.

  19. Sue Moore says:

    Years ago I was told to press my seams open for all the reasons you give, even though machine quilting wasn’t what it is today! Then an employee of a quilt shop told me I must be ‘a dressmaker’ that I should press seams one way! How times change !! Do what suits your style & be guided by the quiltmakers you follow. Thanks for this post, great comments as usual.

  20. Deborah says:

    Thanks for the great info! Β  How wide is the wooden seam roller in your store (Made by Marshaltown). Β  Thanks!

    >________________________________ > From: Christa Quilts! >To: dlfrench@bellsouth.net >Sent: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 12:02 AM >Subject: [New post] Christa’s Soapbox – Why I Press My Seams Open > > > WordPress.com >Christa posted: “For those that have followed my last few quilt alongs, you will notice that I am a big advocate of pressing my seams open. So I thought I would let you know why. For starters, it makes my blocks lie really, really flat. I used to rush though the quiltm” >

  21. Pam Arbour says:

    I agree with you 100% Christa. I pressed mine to one side for years, but when I got real serious about FMQ, I realized how hard it was to quilt over that bulk and I don’t think the quilt lays as nicely. I have been totally converted to open seams. It does take a little longer, but it is well worth it.

  22. Vicki says:

    First off, I have always wondered what that little wooden roller was amongst my grandmothers things! Now I know. Second, I second your reasoning for pressing seams open. Very, very nice post. Thanks!

  23. Becky Greene says:

    I had read that if you press the seams open and then machine quilt (especially in the ditch), your needle could pierce the thread and eventually cause the seam to fail. Any concern about that? I am about 70% to the side and 30% open, but I agree that open is a lot flatter and usually less bulky.

    • Pam Arbour says:

      Becky, I have thought about that also, but if you quilting is fairly dense, that quilt isn’t going anywhere. It will stay in place.

  24. claudia w says:

    Thank you for this. I don’t know why I have always followed the conventional route, thinking the whole time I want to press my seams open. I will now do my seams as you do, I think it will feel much better.

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