Ironing is Really Pressing

Familiarise yourself with the following pressing techniques:

Stirare è in realtà Pressare tecnica TRADOTTO ITALIANO
kindly translated by Lilliana Soli of Fantasy Quilt.

Pressing vs Ironing

Pressing means bringing the iron directly down onto the fabric, without dragging it. Ironing, in this context, is dragging the iron across the fabric in a back and forth motion.

Pressing is the technique used for quilt blocks, lest you distort their shape.

Use a hot, dry iron. Steam will increase the chance of distorting the fabric.

Setting Seams

Press the seam prior as it was sewn:

setting seams 1

This sinks the thread into the fabric, meaning the fabric will fold over more accurately and flatly It also assists with removing puckers.

Now, press the seam towards the dark:

setting seams 2

Press Towards the Dark

There’s two reasons patchworkers advise you to ‘Press To the Dark’, ie Press the seam towards the darkest fabric.

Firstly, if a seam is pressed underneath the darker fabric, then it is less likely to show through on the right side of your block. Anyone who has made a black and white quilt will soon attest to this. In this case, even a small difference in the width of fabrics in a seam may be seen. Another reason to buy better quality fabric! Exhibit A:

See the shadow of dark fabric behind light?

Secondly, if you consistently press your seams in one direction, then you are most likely facilitating butting seams. In addition, you have a short-cut to remembering which direction a seam is pressed when you get to the ironing board.

The Ironing Plan

The ease with which you join the components of your blocks essentially comes down to your ‘Ironing Plan’.

1. Butting Seams.
Plan to press seams in opposite directions, so that they butt when joined. Butting seams trumps just about everything. The convenience and neat finish afforded by butting the seams far outweighs even a thick and difficult seam.

2. Take the Easy Option
If you have a choice, it’s often easier to iron towards a fabric with no seams, from a unit with seams. Choose this option if your fabrics are unlikely to show through to the good side of your block.

Sometimes, heavily sewn seams just want to go in a certain direction; have you noticed that, too?

Using Starch

Many quilters pre-wash their fabric to remove the manufacturer’s sizing and to test colour-fastness and running. If you are one of these quilters, I highly recommend starching your fabric prior to cutting it to give the fabric stability and to ensure it is straight of grain (see the section on blocking, below). Note: Starch you fabric right before you use it. Starching then storing fabric attracts silverfish and encourages permanent creasing.

I don’t pre-wash my fabric. I use the original sizing to give the fabric stability. With problematic fabrics, I will add additional starch before cutting: I believe it adds to the precision of your cutting and aligning. I mitigate the risk of colour run by washing the quilt after it is finished, including a couple of colour-capture sheets. It depends on your appetite for risk!

Remember to use any chemical in a well-ventilated space, and to stop using it immediately if you have any allergic reaction.

Applying Starch:
1. Use a hard pressing board, rather than a cushy ironing board. This decreases the opportunity for distortion and stretching.

2. Apply starch to the wrong side of your block or fabric. Starch on the front of the fabric often leaves a shiny mark. If you wish to apply starch to the front of the block or fabric, use an ironing cloth to protect the front of the fabric.

3. Wash your ironing board cover regularly. I find the starch burns onto the ironing board cover, and the cover build a white residue. Washing removes this.

I can’t recommend a particular product, as I haven’t tried them all!


If you purchase good quality fabric, it is less likely to be ‘off-grain’, that is, the weft and the weave of the fabric are not at right angles. If you have to straighten fabric, consult these instructions for blocking fabric from Lynda Reynolds.

If your block is terribly out of shape, it may require wet blocking. See this excellent lesson by Sylvia Landman on ‘blocking’ individual quilt blocks, or an entire quilt.