Ironing & Pressing Tips for Successful Piecing

Did you know I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to quilting? It's actually not so much about wanting a perfect quilt but rather more about the challenge. I get easily bored, and to get through chain piecing, making repetitive blocks, cutting fabric, or ironing, playing the "get it as perfect as possible game" helps. I also try to be as efficient as possible because I only have so much time every day to sew. To strike that balance, I believe setting your foundation up right the first time around will save you frustration and lost time down the line.

Knowing the difference between ironing and pressing, when to iron or press, and what tools to use are all essential for success.

The difference between ironing and pressing:

Ironing is when you move your iron across the surface of your fabric to remove as many wrinkles as possible.

Pressing is when you carefully place the iron on your fabric and let the heat and weight of the iron remove wrinkles (or create a crease, depending on what stage of the quilting process you are in).

When to iron and when to press:

Ironing is generally only done at the beginning stage of the quilting process. You want to flatten out all the wrinkles created from being wrapped around a bolt or being folded in your shopping bag. You still need to be fairly gentle while ironing so that you don't force your grain lines out of position. Ironing in the direction of the weft and warp of your fabric ensures that you won't stretch them across their bias (the stretchiest direction of your fabric). Slowing down or using steam/water over stubborn spots is also helpful. Ironing is usually a pretty quick task for me, since I always follow it up with pressing!

Grain Lines on Fabric

Warp - almost no stretch

Weft - some stretch

Bias - lots of stretch

Pressing is done throughout the piecing process. Right after ironing, I like to apply Best Press (a starch alternative) to my fabric and press every inch to get it really wrinkle-free and to give a bit of stiffness for cutting later on. (I will be posting a separate tutorial for the correct way to use starches and sizing agents - stay tuned!). 

Best Press Starch Alternative

You also want to press when flattening your seams open or to one side, flipping your seam allowance over your applique templates, and attaching fusible webbing (or any kind of glue). Ironing motions at any of these stages can warp your fabric and quilt blocks out of shape and they won't line up with your other pieces going forward.

Pressing with an iron

Look how flat that seam is!

Flat seam after pressing

Bonus tip! A neat trick for getting accurate nested seams is to press your fabric after you have pinned the pieces together but before you have sewn them! Just make sure to only use glass head pins that can withstand the heat.

Tools for ironing and pressing success:

You really only need two things to iron and press successfully. All the extras are just a bonus! 

 1) Ironing/pressing surface. This is truly the other half of the equation. In order to get wrinkle-free fabric or flat seams, you need your ironing surface to be pretty hard and flat, with only a little bit of give. If you think about your normal clothes ironing board, it has quite a bit of give because it has a protective pad and cover that goes over a metal table. This works great for ironing (getting wrinkles out of) your clothes but it's too much give for getting flat seams. An ironing surface made of some type of wood (like MDF, OSB, or a lighter hardwood) covered with a layer of cotton batting (your tiny bit of padding) and a duck cloth cover is the ideal surface for flattening fabric. Scott wrote a tutorial for making your own ironing table, with a materials list and lots of photos for every step! You will recognize this ironing table in many of my photos, and it's one of my favorite things in my sewing room. The benefit of making your own is that you can customize the size and shape of your surface, which padding you use, and which fun pattern to use for your cover. Having this much space means I can iron a yard of fabric at a time. It is the best!

2) Iron. This is a hot topic (heh). Some quilters are non-steamers and some are steamers, and I won't go too deeply into this topic. When I first started quilting I used steam but after much experimentation, I am a strict non-steamer for pressing. This means that my iron does not need steam holes, which is great because there are no holes to cause uneven pressing across my fabric. I use an iron that has a flat, stainless steel sole plate. There are irons that range from $15 to $400. I have used a $200 steam iron and it only lasted 2 years. I switched to a $35 non-steam iron and it has been fantastic. Another feature that you might want to look for is an iron that has an auto shut off longer than 5 minutes (this can quickly get annoying). If I ever do need the power of steam, I use a fine spray bottle with water to use on stubborn spots, but only during the ironing process.

WASING Iron

Some additional tools you can use, but that are not essential, are: pressing sticks, wool mats, pressing cloths, and small irons. Depending on the project, I will use these extras. I store them all on the shelf under my ironing station so that they are within reach when I need them.

Ironing Station

I hope you found this blog post helpful! It's easy to get confused by all the products you can get that promise perfection, but sometimes getting down to the basics is all you really need to be successful at something.

Do you have any tips I should know about? Let me know by commenting below!

Happy sewing!

Simone

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