Did you know...Attending to Pressing MattersAugust 7, 2012
The debate about "ironing" versus "pressing" has waned in recent years as quilters finally realize that piecing quilts requires a different skill set apart from the laundry room. For years we were used to getting the wrinkles out of our cotton shirts with lots of heat, a water sprinkler, and brute force. Sometimes we were successful, other times not so much, depending on how long we let the shirt sit in the dryer!
We tended to carry that same philosophy into our quilting studios, attempting to tame the cotton fabric into submission with high heat and pressure as we scrubbed the iron back and forth across our fabric. And we wondered why our borders were wonky and our blocks were distorted! With experience we learned that quilting really requires "pressing"--lifting the iron and placing it down on top of the fabric without scooting it around like a two-step dancer. This approach still helped us set our seams without warping them in the process.
However, as we got more sophisticated, we learned that we should press the seams to the dark fabric so they wouldn't shadow through the quilt top. The added benefit was that our patches nestled well together when we butted the patchwork sections together. With more sophistication comes more complication. Now with bulky seams causing us troubles, we choose to press some of the seams open.
This practice certainly helps a quilt top lay flat, and can minimize the lumps in 8-pointed stars and stack-n-whack quilts. But it can make quilting "in the ditch" precarious at best because the "ditch" no longer exists when seams are pressed open. If you choose to use this technique for your piecing, set your piecing stitch length shorter (closer together) so the fabric pieces will not gap and open up under tension or stress. Instead of quilting designs that require "stitching in the ditch' look for designs that will cross over the seams rather than sit next to them. A subtle zig- zag motion across the seam can add a creative element and secure each side of the seam more thoroughly.
When possible, construct the backing such that the seams run parallel to the rollers (horizontally). This prevents the seam from building up on your backing roller on the seam, creating a ridge and sags in the back. If you must load the quilt with a vertical seam, press it open to reduce the bulk. Then be sure to use your hands to "squeeze" the seam tighter on to the roller, compressing it as much as possible to simulate one layer of fabric.
Whether or not to use steam and/or spray starch is still up for debate in quilting circles. Advocates of steam say it helps re-block and "set" warped or distorted fabric and the spray starch stabilizes the fabric. Opponents cite stretching and distortion as the direct result of USING steam. But what is really boils down to is whether you are a "presser" or an "ironer"-- ironers will distort the fabric, steam or not.Whatever you do, be sure to protect your fingers from the hot tip of the iron and scalding steam vents. Special pressing gloves and finger cots are available in quilt shops to reduce injury from pressing. Take your time and carefully press your blocks, and you'll be happy with the results.
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