simplest ever rules for pressing

There’s always lots of talk about pressing when it comes to quilts… Open or to the side? Steam or no steam? And then there’s the admonition “press, don’t iron!”  So much of it is personal preference, but I’ve realized lately that to get the best results it really all comes down to two simple rules that can be summed up thusly: use starch & press from the right side also.

Being a longarm quilter gives me the privilege of seeing many quilts by many quilters. Being up close with all those quilts, and handling them the way you do for attaching them to a longarm table, you learn things about construction that you might not think about otherwise. About wavy borders, tight vs bulky piecing, things I could teach a whole class on. But pressing is the one thing that is the easiest way to get the best results.

Good pressing will:

  • prevent fabric from shifting, stretching and distorting
  • make it easier to fit blocks together and match seams
  • give you flatter, prettier, less bulky seams
  • help you catch problems like holes, folds, unravels, and crooked seams
  • give everything a smooth, crisp finish that is easier to sew or quilt across

And here’s all you have to do to make that happen.


I always keep Flatter by Soak and Best Press by my iron. These are starch alternatives that are gentle and smell great. (I’m addicted to that Yuzu Flatter!) You may prefer heavy starch from the laundry aisle of the grocery store or your own vodka mixture.  Starch all your fabrics before you cut.  I had a time when I was lazy and quit doing this. Then when I started again, I was so amazed at how much more precise everything was. The little bit of stiffness keeps everything in place as you cut and piece and it all matches up so well. No more tugging and pulling and easing. I also use starch when pressing each seam to get things really flat, but if you’re into dry pressing just the pre-cutting starch will still help.


Most of us were probably taught to set a seam and then press it from the wrong side so you can control where the seam allowance goes.  And then what? Bluntly put, I’m shocked at how many quilters are not also pressing from the front of the quilt. We spend so much time cutting and piecing and cutting and piecing and we want out quilts to look good, so don’t forget to check the side you’ll actually be looking at when it’s done! Even if you think you have pressed your seam flat from the wrong side, you can only see the fold of the seam from the right side. You can press the wrong side to push the seam allowance the direction it needs to go, and then press from the right side to fully flatten the seam. Without that, this is what happens. Can you see it?That pesky little fold will get sewn across and quilted over.  If every seam has a little fold, a block could end up half an inch smaller than it should be which can cause quite some trouble when trying to fit things together. Every time I quilt over a fold, I feel so sloppy. Hopefully this doesn’t sound too nitpicky. At least it’s easy to do. And satisfying! I love turning my piecing over at each stage after I’ve pressed from the back, getting to see what I’ve done and giving myself a little credit for it. (We all deserve to give ourselves more credit for lots of things!)

Maybe you already do just this and you’ve got some pressing tips of your own for us? Everyone has their own little tricks and I love hearing them.

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14 Responses to “simplest ever rules for pressing”

  1. Ilene Peterson Says:

    AMEN to your post on flat seams. Sometimes I feel like I spend as much time ironing seams as I do sewing, but when the quilt comes back from the quilter I am always happy. Thanks for your encouragement. It is good to know that I am doing something correct in my piecing efforts. Have a great week. Ilene

  2. Marianne Says:

    Thanks Jo. You were telepathically telling me to press from the right side! And yes, I did catch mistakes that way! Pinned!

  3. Nancy Says:

    Totally agree with your ironing tips. I’ve been dong this for quite some time and my friends think I’m a bit obsessive…but my quilts turn out beautifully…!! THANKS!

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  13. UK Segboards Says:

    You were telepathically telling me to press from the right side! And yes, I did catch mistakes that way!

  14. GoHoverkart Says:

    I feel like I spend as much time ironing seams as I do sewing,

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