Archive for March, 2012

Why I press seams open

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

I received the email that follows and when answering it, I thought other quilters might like to know my answer as well.


Hi Brenda –

I recently purchased Bali Pop Compulsion and I have ordered two more Strip Therapy books.  I love Hoffman Bali Pops and I am very excited about creating beautiful quilts with your patterns.  I am just wondering if there is a reason that you press your seams open.  I have been quilting for years and the general rule has been to press the seams according to how they will meet so they nest.  Is there a benefit to pressing them open?


Thank you,



My reply is as follows
I press open for a number of reasons.

– When you press to one side, unless careful, the strip sets tend to arc.  Requiring trimming and loss of strip length when sub-cutting.

– The seams are flat an much easier for my longarm gal to quilt.

– When FINGER pressed open – I do use my fingernail – I get close and personal to the seam line.  There is no accordion pleat of fabric, no lost fabric, at the seam line.  My piecing is much more accurate.  The seams are flat so I don’t feel tempted to go to the iron during block construction.  As a result, my blocks are square and not distorted by poor pressing technique at the iron or steam from the iron.

– A great side benefit is that I don’t have to argue with myself why I am pressing the seam one way or the other.  I just press open.

I believe the original reason to press to one side was to strengthen the seam.  If the stitching of the seam released, the second fabric was still pressed completely under the seam, preventing exposure to the batting.  This was much more important with hand pieced quilts and the old lint cotton batting.

Modern quilters have terrifically strong seams due to sewing machines.  The bonded batting available today does not shred and migrate out of the seam if it should open. It is also my impression that todays quilts are most often machine quilted – more heavily quilted than the quilts from the 70’s and 80’s.

It is okay to rethink what we do and how we do them.  I spent years pressing seams to one side, and many hours trying to determine which direction would work the best.  Once I thought through why the seams were being pressed to one side, I decided that those reasons didn’t hold water any longer.

This information is simply my personal opinion.  Pressing seams open works for me, perhaps it will work for you as well.