Monday, October 7, 2013

My first tutorial -- pressing basics for piecing -- Part 1

Well, that week whizzed past and Tuesday is already here!    Time to write my first blog tutorial.

To begin, you need to know that I was trained as a dressmaker  -- clothing construction was my college major and so I bring an "attention to detail" mindset to my piecing.

If you don't already have a "good" iron, ask friends what they like and try theirs out -- pay attention to the weight; how fast it heats; if you like steam, does it put out a good quantity of steam; automatic shut-off setup; smoothness of the plate; ease of cleaning, etc.  This is an important tool so you want the best one for you and your budget.  I like a heavy iron but the arthritis in my wrists doesn't -- so I've started using the Oliso Pro Smart iron that sits flat and my wrists are happy again because I rarely have to lift the iron.  (I like that it's yellow, too!)

Next, clear off the ironing board -- sounds silly, but flat surfaces have a way of attracting stacks (of important stuff).  It's easier to press your work if the entire surface of the board is available.  (If you are afraid of losing the pile of stuff on the board, just set it on the floor below temporarily.)

I believe it's better to press all my fabric before cutting.  It's the first step to accurate cutting.  If the fabric seems soft or wobbly, I size it with Best Press Starch Alternative.  That means pressing out the center crease so I can fold it for strip cutting more accurately.  In my zeal for using lots of fabric that has been folded up in my stash (for years), I accidently, and happily, discovered that by hanging fabric over the shower rod, spritzing it with water, and coming back later (maybe tomorrow), most of the wrinkles and creases disappear on their own!!  Love that!!  (Just be sure to get it off the shower rod before someone needs to use the shower.)

I always go to my ironing station ready to work!  No tossed salads of stuff to be pressed -- it wastes mental energy to look at each one and decide what to do but when all the pieces are stacked the same way, I just need to make the first decision and then repeat, repeat, repeat -- zoom, zoom!!  I also pay attention to having the fabric on top which I will be pressing a seam towards.  This strategy will cut down on your time at the iron!

Don't do this!
Do this!!
I press on the right side to avoid those little pleats at the seam line and I work with the side of the iron, not the tip to prevent stretching the fabric.  Steam or dry -- it's up to you.  I use steam most of the time -- it softens the fabric and makes it easier to tame.  The trick is to remember you are pressing -- that's an up and down motion.  We aren't ironing (moving the iron vigorously across the fabric, back and forth) -- that's what causes stretching.

My cardinal rule is to press every seam before crossing it with another seam.  Start by pressing it flat as sewn -- that "sets" the stitching and flattens the fabric which makes a subtle difference in it's behavior. This is where I use a spritz of steam -- it softens those stubborn lumps and then I go "dry" to press it to one side or open.  Suit yourself on the pressing to one side or open -- I know gals who do both and will argue for their preference.  I press to one side and towards the darkest fabric or the least resistance as often as possible.  (Remember there will be always be exceptions.)

Set the stitching.
Flip the top piece towards the seam.

Press into the seam with flat edge of iron
Now it's time for you to press some patchwork!! 

If you've been following my UFQ progress report -- did you notice that the pressing examples are UFQ #4 -- making progress!  Next time I'll discuss some specifics of pressing patchwork blocks that I've discovered improve the quality of my piecing.

Eager to read your comments!!



  1. Loved the tutorial. A nice refresher for me.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read it and the nice compliment, Cathy!

  2. Great tut, Mary. I like a dry iron, no steam for me. And I love to spray starch and iron my fabric before cutting. Gives a cleaner cut in my opinion. Will start pressing the seam first to set it before opening it up. Great tip. Thanks.

  3. Thanks for reading the tutorial, Lin -- glad it was helpful!

  4. Good information, Mary. I picked up a few things (esp relating to steam) that I will try to build into my normal routine. I am thankful to have started my quilting career at your shop and have benefitted from your advice for so many years. The goal of adding efficiency and focusing decision-making in the right spots has been a great influence. No tossed salad for me!

    1. Thanks, Lori! Your support all these years is an honor for me!