Pressing Quilt Seams: Open or to the Side?

pressing quilt seams 1 Pressing quilt seams is a crucial step in any quilt-making process that will not only 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

Get in touch! Leave a comment or email

Become a National Quilters Circle Premium Member

Share tips, start a discussion or ask one of our experts or other students a question.

Make a comment:
characters remaining

44 Responses to “Pressing Quilt Seams: Open or to the Side?”

  1. Cathy Miles

    I didn't want the bulk at the intersections of my all HST quilt, so I pressed open. Now as I am considering a pattern for quilting the piece, I am drawn to stitching diagonally 1/4" on both sides of the seam. That will leave my seams unprotected as you mentioned. Help my top is nearly all sewn together, a few rows left to attach. Do I choose a different quilting pattern or make my quilting 1/8" on either side instead of 1/4"?

  2. Judy Wales

    As the fabric dictates

  3. Jaime

    I used to press to side and find that pressing open makes for less bulk. As for stitching in the ditch, most times you are just off to the side of the ditch anyway instead of actually in it. It works just fine on pressed open.

  4. Karen W

    I'm still a believer in pressing to the dark side, but also find that using a lighter-weight thread (typically 50-wt) when sewing the seams can help the seam lie flatter. I will sometimes open a seam flat if I am machine embroidering a design across a seam (over 2 pieced blocks), for smoother transitioning, but the embroidery usually helps secure the seam, rather than putting stress or pulling on the seam.

  5. Alice Bowman

    Good points for each technique. I have always pressed my seams open and wasn't happy with the results but continued to do it. Will start pressing to the side as it has a much nicer result.

  6. Betty Sandusky

    I press to the dark. However on occasion open seam pressing maybe necessary to reduce bulk.

  7. Nancy

    I have learned that I like to press my seams open since I hand quilt it makes it easier to get my needle through just two layers verses 3 when I want to quilt over seams. I have a reticulated right shoulder so machine quilting is very difficult and painful.

  8. Cathy Nelson

    I always press to the dark but when I go to nest the seans they aren't right. What am I doing wrong?

  9. Sherry Lawrence

    I press to the dark side bc that is what i was told to do. However! Sometimes my pieces get a bit bulgy and i will press them open to have them lay a bit flatter, which is the reason you will find i have both types in the same quilt. Im a novice, so what do i know? Ive only been quilting four years, but it is my passion now! Lol 😂😂😂

  10. Kathie Cross

    I press my seams to the sides as believe it makes the seams stronger. EXCEPT when I have a block that has MULTIPLE seams in one spot--then I press the seams open as it creates LESS BULK when pressing and stitching.