Pressing Quilt Seams: Open or to the Side?

pressing quilt seams 1 Pressing quilt seams is a crucial step of any quilt-making process – not only will it make it easier to join your blocks, it will also make your finished creation lie flatter and look so much more polished. Some quilters might prefer to finger-press, but pressing quilt seams with an iron is really your best bet. But should you press your seams open or to the side?

pressing quilt seams 2 Like many of you, I took many quilting classes that taught me to press my quilt seams to the side – actually to the dark side. For those of you who are new to quilting, that simply means that your seam should lay on the wrong side of the dark fabric you are using.

I was told this was so your seams wouldn’t show through the lighter fabric and that pressing it this way would make your seam stronger. Being a good little student I did not question what I was being taught! However recently, there has been a debate on social media and in guilds as to which way is actually is preferable.

pressing quilt seams 3

The Case for Pressing to the Side

Pressing quilt seams to the side is faster than pressing open and makes it easier to lock seams in place, sort of like a puzzle.

pressing quilt seams 4It gives you that little added help in a clean seam intersection. This occurs because seams are pressed to opposite directions when sewing sections together. The front of the finished block shows you how precise the seams and corners are at the intersection – that is due in part to being able to interlock those seams.

pressing quilt seams 5Notice the checkerboard that appears at the intersections – that’s because we are trying to reduce bulk. This is also a great way to lock the seams.

pressing quilt seams 6Pressing seams to the side also makes your seam flatter. Seams that are pressed open make your thread more vulnerable to damage due to threads being exposed. That lip of fabric protects your threads from pulling as well as shredding from stress or catching on something that could rip the seam. This puts you at risk for unraveling fabric.

Pressing Open

One reason many quilters like to pressing quilt seams open is that they feel the pieces lay stronger. Unfortunately, if you were to stitch in the ditch, you would not catch fabric but threads. And doing so could actually weaken that seam. Fabric plus thread equals strength.

And of course there are always exceptions to every rule. For example, I always press my border seams open, as well as my binding seams and my backing when I load it on my long arm. Quilting is a personal journey so you need to do what feels right for you. It just helps to know the “whys” and “hows” of your decisions. If you chose to press your block seams open, you may want to consider not doing stitch in the ditch.

Now, I am going to steal something I once read: Efficiency, Accuracy, and Integrity… those are the things we need to strive for. What are your thoughts? Leave a comment and let’s start a discussion.


Related Video: Pressing Quilt Seams

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Discussion
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41 Responses to “Pressing Quilt Seams: Open or to the Side?”
  1. Jackie

    Thank you so much for this insight. I have pondered this fact for some time as a new quilter wanting to get it ‘right’. I have googled and read so much with varying opinion. A recent book I read said they always press their seams open. This article really helps the choices I will make in the future. I am currently pressing to the dark side and this ‘seems’ right for this project. Thank you J

    Reply
  2. Susan

    I have found that pressing the seams open on half and quarter square triangles allows them to lay flatter and matching seams easier. I read somewhere that some of the “Big” names in the quilting world are doing this for triangle squares.

    Reply
    • National Quilters Circle

      Hi, Britiney! The H2er was a typo, it was fixed a few weeks ago. It should have read lay flatter and allow seams to lock in place.

      Reply
    • Anna

      Good info. I am new to quilting, I have sewn wearable art clothing for years and now want to get into some quilting.

      Reply
    • Karen

      Hi, I am completely new to quilting and just put all of my charms together seams open. I was wanting to stitch in the ditch but realise this is not an option now 😢 Can I sew diagonally across the charms? Please help.

      Reply
  3. Terry Sheldon

    I press my seams to the side…try to follow pattern instructions so they will “nest.” You mentioned the reason pressing seams open is not an option…I do quite a bit of in the ditch quilting myself. Pressing seams to the side makes a stronger quilt as well. So there’s my two cents!

    Reply
    • Eugenia Hill

      I have recently started to use Clover Fork Pins…they have ‘exacted’ my points so much. This is not an advertisement. They’re HARD to find, but so worth the time and money.!

      Reply
      • National Quilters Circle

        Thanks for the great info! I looked into these pins; make sure when you order them, you choose the correct ones. They have larger ones for blocking quilts and then the ones for quilting. I’m going to give them a try.

        Reply
    • National Quilters Circle

      Hi, Terry. Thank you for your input. I agree whole heartedly! Have a great weekend!

      Reply
  4. Tammy Gericke

    I agree with everything you wrote. I press open when I know beyond a doubt I will not stitch in the ditch along that seam. Some of the candidates are borders and diagonal seams on binding strips, border strips, and sashing strips where I’m trying to minimize the visibility of the seam. Some other blocks that I never stitch in the ditch are One Block Wonders. If there is any chance I’ll want to stitch in the ditch, I press to the side just in case. I hate it when I get a quilting inspiration only to find that I can’t safely do anything but an edge to edge all over pattern because so many of the seams are pressed open.

    Reply
    • Vicki

      For many blocks pressing to one side creates a much simpler process for matching points and intersections. There are however some exceptions to this and pressing open is the only viable way to get your block to lay flat. One of the biggest frustrations I have encountered in my journey as a quilter is following a pattern which gives NO pressing instructions. Sometimes when I encounter this I try and mark the pressing direction as I assemble the block so I can note times when it did or didn’t work out on a block. Thank you for your article and your clear explanation of the challenges of open sesms.

      Reply
  5. Cheryl

    Each project needs to be analyzed before making a decision on pressing. Sometimes I press to one side for the same reasons listed above, but sometimes open is a better choice. For complex designs when many seams intersect, open seams lie flatter in my opinion.

    Reply
  6. Benay V. Williams

    I generally like to press my seams open. Of course, in the beginning as the article reads, you are taught to press towards the darker fabric. I have also discovered it can also depend on the block on which technique to use. I also love to starch my fabric throughout the entire ironing process. Good luck everyone.

    Reply
    • Gina Jarvis

      My Aunt told me not to starch, that if your quilt will set not get used it attracts bugs. She lived in CA for 50 years and has won best of show in the big quilt shows out there. I no longer starch

      Reply
  7. Lisa Thompson

    I was taught (trained) to press seams to the side, and it certainly makes sense when matching “locking” seams. When I joined our local quilt guild four years ago, however, a member actually yelled at me for doing that. So I retrained myself (thinking I didn’t like the yelling and maybe I had missed some new trend). The tiebreaker was a professional long-arm quilter who agreed with your column; pressing open reduces the strength of the seam itself and “exposes” the seam to early wear and tear. So I press to the side again, and I’m ready for the next time I’m chastised for doing so. 🙂

    Reply
  8. Kathy Meeks

    That’s the way I was taught to press seams and the checkerboard was mainly for hand Quilting because you don’t sew
    all the way to the end of the fabrics.

    Reply
  9. Chrys

    I was taught and continue to always press my seams to the side. I’m careful to follow any directions for pressing in specific directions, but otherwise press toward the darker fabric. I feel it helps line up more precise interlocking of points and such as well as being stronger in the the end. After reading the article, I now feel confident that this continues to be the best way to go in most scenarios. Thank you greatly for such a wonderfully informative article.

    Reply
  10. Mary

    Thank you for an informative article. I began quilting this last winter after watching some YouTube videos. The person I watched pressed seams open. Then I started reading and watching everything I could about quilting. It made sense to me to use the pressing to the side because I could not, (no matter how hard I tried) get the crisp, matched look I wanted when I pressed the seams open. For me, the pressing the seams to the side really helps me to match up those corners because it gives me an interlocking key, so to speak. It helps to know that it is a recommended method from an experienced quilter. Thank you.

    Reply
  11. ramona

    I have done both. Mainly I press to the side but quilts that are made of thicker fabric, like flannel or t-shirt quilts, I like to press the seams open. This reduces the bulk at the seams. Even though I tend to meander these types of quilts, pressing the seams open helps to keep from breaking a needle or causing uneven quilting in seamed areas. Great article. I have found so many do not bother to press much at all, which is a shame. The quilt could look so much nicer.

    Reply
  12. deltha

    I am working on a large paper piece quilt so when I join two long seams 18 inches or longer I press open to reduce the bulk, it works for me

    Reply
  13. Patricia

    When I learned to quilt, it was all done by hand. Seams were pressed open so you didn’t have the bulk of side pressed seams to go through.

    Reply
  14. Cathy McQueen

    I am a new quilter and have been struggling with the ‘pressing’ issue while making a Star in Star block. I’ve drawn the pattern on paper and planned out different pressing directions but there are inevitably several really bulky points. I am now trying to press the seams open. Is there a trick to reducing bulkyiness on star points?

    Reply
    • Ellen

      Yes there is a trick when several seams come together such as the center of a star. If there are 8 points, try to divide them in half and press with the tip of your iron to flatten. Then use your fingers to twist and smoosh the points around in a circle and press again.
      Even with the most careful pressing of seams to the side or open, sometimes they get flipped by the feed dogs when sewing so I end up having to switch the direction of the nesting seams or crease one seam so it will go the right way. Whichever method is used, you can still end up with some thicker spots you will need to avoid quilting directly through…you didn’t do anything wrong, it just happens sometimes!

      Reply
  15. Sal

    I usually press all my seams to one side. I even press along border seams this way as that is the one seam I almost always stitch in the ditch – for added stability. When making a simple scrap quilt of 4.5″ squares recently I decided to join in ever increasing blocks instead of in rows so I pressed all my seams open as I was going to FMQ an all over design and it meant that I could turn the blocks any way that I chose. I still pressed the borders to one side.

    Reply
  16. Mary Strike

    This is my 1st quilt. Baby quilt. Flannel. All different soft colored squares. Do I press to the side as I am going to do stitch in a ditch.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hello Mary,

      Yes, you definitely want to press to the side for stitch in the ditch quilting. If you press the seams open, then when you go to quilt you won’t really be catching any of the fabric.

      Cheers,
      Ashley NQC Video Membership

      We’d love to have you be a part of our community. We are convinced you will enjoy the benefits of becoming a member and having access to the best instructional how to videos and professional tips. We would like to offer you a special promotion for your first year membership.
      https://go.nationalquilterscircle.com/C11348

      Reply
  17. Claudette

    I’m making a patchwork quilt with 7 inch squares I hope to find someone with a long arm quilting machine now I’m not sure if I should press open or to the side it’s also all flannel
    Any advice? Thankyou claudette

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hello Claudette,

      Many people choose to press seams open when working with flannel because of the extra bulk. However, doing this means that they quilt can not be quilted in the ‘ditch’ between seams, so if this is a way you were wanting it quilted, I would think about that. Also, you could contact the long arm quilter and see what they prefer.

      Cheers,

      Ashley
      National Quilters Circle Video Membership

      We’d love to have you be a part of our community. We are convinced you will enjoy the benefits of becoming a member and having access to the best instructional how to videos and professional tips. We would like to offer you a special promotion for your first year membership.
      https://go.nationalquilterscircle.com/C13207

      Reply
      • Ann

        I press to the side but the don’t interlock. I try to always press one way, but that doesn’t work when rows are switched, or when turning a square around for stitching, I end up with seams on the wrong side anyway, creating bumpy bulk. Is there a foolproof trick to this?

        Reply
        • Customer Service

          Hello Ann,

          Knowing which way to press the seams can be tricky. Depending on the pattern you are using, there might be pressing instructions that tell you which way to press the seams, which can help a lot. However, if you end up with seams going in the same direction when lining up rows- it is important to know that you can always re-press a unit or a block so that it does line up and nest with the adjoining seam.

          We’d love to have you be a part of our community. We are convinced you will enjoy the benefits of becoming a member and having access to the best instructional how to videos and professional tips. We would like to offer you a special promotion for your first year membership.

          https://go.nationalquilterscircle.com/C13943

          Cheers,

          Ashley
          National Quilters Circle Video Membership

          Reply
  18. Trudy

    I’m piecing flying geese blocks with solid fabric that is a bit heavy. I usually press seams to one side. The points of the flying geese blocks will be joined in a seam so that the points are adjacent, so basically 6 pieces need to come together at a point. I’m having difficulty getting those points match. Should I try pressing some seams open so that there is not so much bulk there? If so, what seams?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hello Trudy,

      I would still recommend pressing the seams to one side while constructing your flying geese. Once you piece the two flying geese together, however, I would press that seam open. In terms of lining up your points- I like to use a pin to help me do this. I place a pin through the point of one flying geese and then place that same pin through the point on the other. This way you know that the points are perfectly aligned. With the pine still staying perpendicular to the fabric, use additional pins to pin the rest of the pieces together. Then, the pin you used to mark the points can be removed.

      Cheers,

      Ashley
      National Quilters Circle Video Membership

      We’d love to have you be a part of our community. We are convinced you will enjoy the benefits of becoming a member and having access to the best instructional how to videos and professional tips. We would like to offer you a special promotion for your first-year membership.
      https://go.nationalquilterscircle.com/C15851

      Reply
  19. Laura

    Im relatively new to quilting. I side press because I want a strong seam, especially for baby quilts that will be subjected to frequent washings. I’ve read that open seams are necessary for some star blocks so I don’t incorporate stars in baby quilts. Problem arises when I’m working on a 16 patch or similar. I want to mix up strips after cutting but find I have to re-iron seams of strips because the don’t nest (does that make sense?). It’s really annoying!

    Reply
  20. ADK Kate

    Think that this is an important issue to discuss. Flexibility is needed based on where the seam is and how it will be handled. For example, in multiple diamond pieces it might be best to press the seams open so that bulk is more evenly distributed to make the quilting go more smoothly. Definitely have to think through the entire project before deciding what to do.

    Reply
  21. Sky kerslake

    Quite a bit of this article didn’t make sense to me. (I’ve been quilting 20+ years). Pressing seams to the side does *not* make them flatter. Pressing open makes them flatter. That is why I press seams open for my quilts when I want a flatter appearance, not one side higher than the other. I agree that perfect SID is not strong for open seams, but is quite ok when it is only part of the quilting and non-perfect like mine. Pressing to the side leaves one entire thread exposed. How can that do anything but wear the thread? In dressmaking, seams have been pressed open forever, yet our clothes don’t fall apart with much more wear than most quilts get. Pressing seams to the side is very good for interlocking points and really the only way to do accurate 9-patches, etc.

    Reply
  22. Par

    I am a new to quilting projects sewer. Pressing seams open was how u was taught to sew I now press the seams to the side/dark as needed I am trying a lone star pattern kit instructs press to the side but have viewed videos which say press seams open which is correct for a lone star pattern ? Thank you for you expertise

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Dear Pat,

      Thank you for your patience.

      Here is the response from the expert:

      Hi,

      In general, quilt patterns will provide pressing instructions with the pattern and I always recommend following those.

      Cheers,

      Ashley
      National Quilters Circle

      Reply
  23. Carla Schuler

    I really enjoy watching the tutorials that you publish. I have learned so much from them. I love that I can go back and refresh on something when I am finally ready to advance to another level. Thank you so much.

    Reply
  24. Sue

    I like open seams. It makes them look neater. I haven’t been quilting long. I’m part of a quilting group & many of them do either, or. So it depends on the quilt how I do the seams. But mostly open.

    Reply