Monday, October 10, 2011

To steam or not to steam

My friend Antionette and I have very different opinions. I always  press with steam and she do not apply steam to her patched seams. Judy Martin only press her blocks once they are completed and just finger press her seams to prevent distortion.

Am I brave or stupid? I am very much aware that "ironing", pressing with an iron and steam pressing can all distort seams. I have seen how finger pressing can stretch the bias. The fact is if you have folds or creases in your seam you will not be able to combine seams accurately. On the back where you stitch it might look as if you are going through the intersection correctly, but if the seam of the bottom patches is not open and flat you will not get a perfect match. Steam and correct pressing is the solution to this problem.

Well Antionette's sewing is perfect and Judy Martin's sewing (on a small mechanical machine) is impressive. Both of them have solved the problem of getting pleats in the seam allowance in their own way. My solution to the problem is to steam press the seam into obedience. I am quite aware of the risks and therefore I am very careful when I press and apply steam.

One of the benefits of strip piecing and chain piecing is that the continuous seam lend stability to the patches. When I am going to use the whole piece of fabric I starch it before I cut it. Otherwise I spray raw starch mixed with water on the patches when I am ready to press the seams. I will lay the sewn strips or chain pieced units on the sewing board. (With the open sides towards me. )

I will not clip the chains before I press. The thread chain help to keep the sewn seam straight (This is very important if you sew triangles to prevent the bias seam to curl up at the corners. After I sprayed with starch I will first press the patches while they are on top of each other. Once it is dry I will lift the top patch up but still at a angle towards me. (I do not open it away from me- that is the iron's job.)

 Now with the side of the iron, I push the top patch over the seam allowance. If you have lift the top patch to far up, the seam allowance will flip on the bottom side, towards you. If you lift it just enough to slide the iron in, the seam allowance will stay away from you and you would not need to iron all the patches on the back as well.(To make sure that the seam allowance is in one direction only.) Now with the iron on the whole seam, I activate the steam. (I have a Battistella  where I control the steam) This secure the seam in this position, unlike just pressing that do not give this permanency.
Only now will I snip the thread chain.

I do not think that correct pressing enjoy enough prominency. It is very important to make it part of any piecing lessons. The direction that seams are pressed in is another aspect that should enjoy attention.
Myrna Giesbrecht taught a class on pressing of seams in a Quilt University class. Unfortunately she do not teach there any longer. She had pressing plans for every block. Although this is taking it a bit far- it is good to think about the directions of the seams as well.

(I press my seam allowances to one side. If I say that the seam must be open- I mean that there should not be a pleat in the seam.)


  1. I use my steam iron exactly the same way. "No steam" folks are happy with their method. I think that maybe I move to slow to stretch my fabrics with the iron OR I am happy to be cautious... because I really like crisply pressed seams. Love your blog. I will be back!!

  2. Interessante onderwerp. Ek is seker jy sal vind dat daar baie mense is wat hul eie manier het om nate te stryk. Ek is heel gelukkig om die nate sonder stoom te "stryk". Ek stryk gewoonlik my materiale voor ek sny, en ek stryk/press dit weer met die nate. Deur dit te doen het ek nog nooit probleme gehad met nate nie - almal is lieflik plat en geset. Ek stryk ook my nate na een kant toe, deur dieselfde proses as jy te gebruik.
    Hoop vir interessante resultate!


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