Sewing and Pressing Stripsets
What could be hard about pressing the seam between two strips!!! Nothing, but there are ways to make sure the strips stay straight after pressing. Have you ever ended up with stripsets that have a subtle arch in them like this? (I’ve exaggerated the illustration to make my point.)
Or have you had a stripset that looked scalloped like this?
These can be caused by the tension not being completely correct on your sewing machine, whether you are using steam (which can easily distort), or by the way you press.
Before you begin sewing, you should do a test with 2 strips of fabric. Sew a regular seam and take a look at the stitches on the wrong side of the fabrics – they should look the same on the top side as on bottom side. Sometimes you’ll need to make a minor adjustment to your tension to make this so (adjust the top thread only using the dial on the top of the machine – not the bobbin or bobbin casing). Because there are so many variations among machine, I’m not going to delve further into this. If you need help adjusting your machine, I think you should feel free to ask the folks at your local quilt shop or sewing machine center.
Now, let’s concentrate on good pressing techniques.
In Nature’s Jewels, on page 19, step 2, you have a narrow rose dots strip sewn to a wider dark green strip. Normally, you’d be instructed to press toward the narrower strip because that’s easier, but in this case it is more important to the construction to press toward the wider strip (green).
Begin by placing the strips on your ironing board, just as you sewed them (right sides together), with the strip you intend to press TOWARD on top, with the seam away from you as shown below. That’s a general rule in pressing – place the piece you plan to press toward on top, with the seam away from you (so that you are always pressing away from your body).
First, press with a hot iron (I use the hottest setting with no steam), in brief (½ second) presses, in a press-lift-press-lift motion, along the seam. This will smooth out any waves in the fabric due to uneven tension or if the fabric was scrunched up on your sewing table after sewing. This press-lift technique will also make the fabric stick to the ironing board -which is a good thing. Some say that it also “sets the stitches”, but I think the clinging to the ironing board is more important.
If you have an ironing board cover that is slippery (like one of those shiny grey covers), and the fabric doesn’t cling, consider covering it with a layer of muslin or other cotton. You want the fabric to cling to the ironing board cover because this will give you a better press. So after you have done this press-lift step, don’t move or lift the fabric, because then you’ll have to do it over again to make the fabric cling.
Now, take a look at the face plate of your iron. Most brands have similar shapes: a pointy tip (which we don’t use much in quilting or it would distort what we’re ironing), then about 1″ – 2″ of straight edge (the spot we are most interested in), and the rest is a long curved edge.
When you press the seam, you need to use the short straight portion. If you use the curved edge, you’ll get the scalloped result shown above. Position the iron so that the straight portion is parallel to the seam (shown below).
Use short upward pushes, pushing the flat edge of the iron up and over the seam, insuring that there is no “valley” or overlap of extra fabric at the seamline. When I teach a class, I encourage my students to say “push, push, push” as they are pressing. Use the natural weight of the iron – no need to press down on the iron or to lift between pushes.
Use your left hand to lift up the green fabric as you move along the strips, while making sure the seam allowance doesn’t flip down (having the fabric cling to the ironing board helps keep this from happening).
Don’t worry if the strips arc up on the left – the natural tendency. Once you have given it the first go-over, you can lift the stripset up and straighten it and give it a final brief press. When I do this, I place the iron on the right edge of the stripset with my right hand, and lift the left edge with my left hand straightening it out – as quickly as possible.
Stripsets with more than 2 fabrics:
If you are to sew more than 2 strips together, it is a good idea to alternate the direction you sew the seams. This will counteract the natural tendency of the stripset to arc due to tension issues with your machine.
If you are making Nature’s Jewels, on page 30, step 2, you’ll be sewing 4 strips together. In this case, the seams are not pressed all in the same direction, so I’d advise pressing after you add each strip.
Normally, they would all be pressed in one direction, and you can wait to press until all strips are sewn. But you should concentrate on only pressing one of the seams at a time, as described below, using the flat portion of the iron. The next illustrations show what to do if they are all to be pressed in the same direction (all toward the darker fabrics).
Press the first seam so the fabric clings to the ironing board.
Push, push, push up the first seam.
Press the second seam up.
Press the third seam up.
If necessary, lift the stripset and make sure it is straight and briefly re-press.
This same technique should be used if you are making a large Trip Around the World stripset, or similar. Hopefully these techniques will ensure that you get straight, fully pressed stripsets. And don’t be surprised if you hear yourself saying “push, push, push”!