Why It's OK to Press Your Seams Open

We all know the #1 Quilting Rule: Press seams to the dark side.
But what if I were to tell you that sometimes, it's okay to press seams OPEN!? Radical, right?

The cool thing about being a mostly self-taught quiltmaker, is that you learn by figuring things out on your own - there's no one to tell you what you can and can't do. That sometimes leads to figuring out ways to get the job done that are a bit unconventional.

When I was a new piecer, I had all kinds of trouble getting more than 4 points to come together properly. When you press seams to the side, it's difficult to see where you're sewing and the bulk leaves a lump in the finished block at that intersection.

After struggling along with this, I finally decided to see if I could figure out a better way. That lead to my first experiments with pressing seams open. 

  Backside: Seams sewn open (left). Frontside: Nice sharp points!

What I learned is that when you press seams open, you can really see what you're doing and where you're going. Along with proper pinning, this helps get those points to all turn out perfectly!

Today, I press solely for construction. I evaluate each block on a case-by-case basis to see what the best way to press is to get the outcome I want. Honestly, most times, that is pressing to the dark side, but sometimes it is pressing to the light and often, it's pressing seams open. 

Other good times to press seams open
How you decide to press is more than just the construction of one block. You also have to think about how the blocks are joined together. 

If you have identical blocks - meaning the value placement is the same throughout - and you consistently press to the dark, when joining the blocks you won't have opposing seams that lock together. This leads to extra bulk, unmatched pieces, or twisted seams. Pressing seams open eliminates all those problems.

Another specific scenario is the nine-patch block. Pressing seams open works best when the nine-patch blocks are not identical or are multi-colored with no clear light and dark. Pressing seams open ensures they all will fit together without twisted seams or re-pressing when setting the blocks together.

Things to consider when pressing seams open
While making the block:
  • Use a smaller stitch. This will strengthen the seams, especially bias seams. This is important on quilts that will get used and washed regularly. I reduce my stitches from 2.5 to 2.0. (Helpful Hint: If reducing your stitches slows your sewing down too much for you, increase the sewing speed - provided you have a machine that has adjustable speed!)
  • Stay-stitch around the finished block. Stay-stiching keeps seams from opening at the edges before you can sew the blocks together. To stay-stitch, increase the stitch length to the longest setting and stitch around the perimeter of the block about 1/8" from the edge. This also stabilizes the block if you have any bias edges.
Quilting the quilt:
  • If you're worried about bearding (batting that migrates to the top of the finished quilt through the seams), make sure to use good quality bonded or needle-punched batting. Bonded batting has a light adhesive on both sides to prevent bearding. Needle-punched is felted to make it firm and dense, which also cuts back on the bearding.
  • Don't stitch in the ditch! This will weaken or break the seams and undo all your beautiful piecing.
Close up of FMQ.
Don't stitch in the ditch if you have seams pressed open!
Free Motion Quilting is a great option. 
Tips for pressing seams open
  • Use a stiletto (or long fingernails) to get the seam open enough so the iron can take it from there. Then press with the iron's tip, don't iron with the full sole plate. Pushing the iron along the seam will distort seams and will twist previously pressed seams.
Use your fingers or a stiletto to open the seam, then let the tip of your iron do the work!
  • Don't use steam in your iron. If you've ever been burned by steam, you understand! Steam hurts (and ruins manicures)! 
  • Press both sides of the block. Press seams open first, then flip the unit over and press again on the front. This makes sure the seams are straight and flat with no puckers. 
  • If you're struggling, use a tool to press open those seams. There are a lot of aids for pressing seams open - pressing sleeves, pressing sticks, etc. Do little research and see if one of these will help.
Expoding Nine-Patch Quilt - 60" x 80"
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Dark side meme from www.sunnysidequilts.com 


  1. I also normally press for ease of construction, but am finding that many times I am pressing my seams open to eliminate bulk and making machine quilting on my domestic machine a lot easier.

    1. I agree! Much easier to FMQ without all that bulk!

  2. Yes, indeed, press any way that works for you! I press open a lot of the time and it hasn't hurt me yet. As to stitching in the ditch, you're right that could be a problem. However, I quilt my own and generally use an edge-to-edge FMQ, so that isn't a concern for me. For other people, they should consider whether they or their quilter will use SID, and if not, don't worry about it. Shortening stitch length is a good idea. I haven't done that in the past and haven't had anything open up too far. But there are occasionally splits at the very ends of seams.
    As to the block, very attractive!!

    1. I personally have never had any problem with a normal stitch length, but if I'm going to send it out to be quilted, I do decrease the stitch for their comfort! And thanks so much for the compliment! I appreciate that!

  3. One thing I've noticed about pressing my seams open: my perfect scant 1/4" seam that works with pressing seams to the side isn't perfect for pressing seams open. I have to remove the scant & just have a 1/4" seam.

    1. That is a good point. It's a good idea to do a test seam before committing to an entire block!

  4. It's hard to SID when there is no ditch. :) The quilt I love pressing seams open on is the one block wonder! And I love doing continuous curves for quilting on them.


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