You’ve heard the calls to press those seams. You’ve got it, and you’re determined to take the extra step to achieve a polished look in your quilting and garment sewing. You’ve also probably heard, “…press your seams open,” and “…NEVER press your seams open!” The advice is polar opposite and downright confusing.
When it comes to garment sewing, there are clear reasons to press seams open. For starters, it helps seams lay flat, which gives a nicer drape. But garment sewing is a beast that I have yet to master. So, for the purposes of this article, let’s stick to quilt piecing.
In terms of flatness, chalk one up for open seams. (Check the photos below.) Because of this, many quilters are staunch advocates of open seams for every single quilt top. Those quilters have pressed open for decades and the results are absolutely lovely. But (there’s always a but), as I’m only the master of my own opinion, I have reasons for both types of pressing that will help you determine when to press open, and when to press to one side.
I’ve always side pressed, and not because I want to finish so I can start quilting (the part I love). It does seem faster to press to one side. It’s less fussy—my modus operandi in many aspects of life. But it’s also a stronger seam. In one photo (below), I’m stretching fabric with an open seam. In the next, I’m stretching fabric with the seam pressed to one side. The open seam shows signs of pressure. In the next photo, you can see the seams to one side appear closed. They are both pulled with the same tension (not scientific, but you get the point). Over time, the open seams are far more likely to allow batting to peek through the tiny holes.
Deductive reasoning tells me that with an open seam, I have mere threads between my quilt top and the batting. For my quilts, that’s not enough. I want my quilts to be well used. I spend a lot of time and love creating them, and I want my quilts to wrap my loved ones in comfort. Want to take them to the beach as a barrier between little bottoms and sand? DO IT! Take them on picnics. Snuggle up next to a campfire. Let your four-legged friends come in from the rain and jump on them. Let your 2-year old drag them around. Laugh as the puppy tugs on one end. Wash them a thousand times and watch them age into soft, wonderful, worn out cotton as the years pass.
If I ever make a quilt for show or a local fair, I’ll likely take the extra time and press my seams open. I have yet to cross that bridge. As time is finite and I hope to make a whole lot more quilts, for now, I’m a side presser.
Whether you press open, left or right, choose your side by considering how you see the recipient using the quilt. For well used quilts, pressing to one side is the stronger choice. For show quilts, open seams give a beautiful finish. Either way, pick a side and press on!
Happy quilting (and pressing!)
Flatness: Open vs. Side Pressed
Top is open and clearly lays flatter.
Seam Pressed Open
Shows signs of pressure when stretched.
Seams Pressed to One Side
The folded seams help insure that batting won’t peak through over time.