How To: Press Open Seams (without burning your fingers!)

Recently, I started doing precision piecing again (more on that later), and I thought I’d share my method for pressing open seams with you. When I started quilting, the only method I knew to press seams open was the standard hold the fabric open just before you iron it. As you probably know, this results in sore, burnt finger tips, and frustration. Possibly even swearing, but we can pretend that doesn’t happen, right? With a few tools, I’ve figured out a way to press seams open without having my fingers anywhere near the iron!

How to Press Open Seams from Smiles Too Loudly -- use a brayer and fork pins to keep your fingers from getting burnt!

The tools you need are: fork pins and a brayer (they’re shown above). I wish I could remember who I heard first mention these tools to give them credit, but I’m a little hazy on the details. A brayer is usually used to help with stamping/inking processes, not that I’ve ever done those… But someone, somewhere, at sometime mentioned it was handy for paperpiecing. It works just like a rolling pin (only smaller) to give you a really firm finger press. I could go into all the mechanics behind force and moment arms to explain why the roller can press better than your fingers, but you would probably fall asleep and miss the important part — how not to burn your fingers — so we’ll skip the physics lesson for today. I picked up my brayer at a semi-local quilt store, but you can find them online as well. (Hint: try searching for wooden seam roller if you don’t have any luck with brayer)

How to Press Open Seams from Smiles Too Loudly -- use a brayer and fork pins to keep your fingers from getting burnt!
a brayer or seam roller

Fork pins are just awesome for so many reasons, especially when dealing with open seams. As you can probably tell from the picture, they have two prongs, so they immobilize the pieces/fabric at two points instead of the usual one. Also, they’re thinner than standard straight pins (at least the ones I have), so you can sew really really close. These are made by Clover, and are available online, and possibly your LQS.

How to Press Open Seams from Smiles Too Loudly -- use a brayer and fork pins to keep your fingers from getting burnt!

Now for the technique! I’m kind of a lazy quilter — see, I don’t like to iron/press at every single step. A.) My cat likes to knock my iron over, so I leave it unplugged as much as possible. Fires are not welcomed. B.) Sewing is supposed to be relaxing, if I’m always getting up and moving around, it’s not as relaxing. The point to this, is with this technique, I only need to press most blocks at the end, when it’s all sewn up. (The example block here was an exception; I did have to press some of the subunits.)  When I’m joining two sections, I finger press each seam, and use the fork pins to hold the seams open, and in place aligned together.

How to Press Open Seams from Smiles Too Loudly -- use a brayer and fork pins to keep your fingers from getting burnt!

See how the seams aren’t open all the way down? The fork pins will hold the seams open where you’re sewing, and the rest can get pressed open later.

How to Press Open Seams from Smiles Too Loudly -- use a brayer and fork pins to keep your fingers from getting burnt!

Since the fork pins are so small, you can sew much, much closer to them. If you remove the pins (any kind of pins, not just these) too soon, it’s almost like you didn’t pin at all. This particular machine I was sewing on doesn’t fair well if I try to sew over the pins… but if you know your machine is okay with it, you can do that too. Just be careful. Maybe wear safety goggles. Or, do like I do, and just sew right up to the pin, then remove it. That’s the other handy feature of fork pins. Rather than having a standard, hard-to-grab head on the end, the forked part angles upwards, making them very easy to grab.

How to Press Open Seams from Smiles Too Loudly -- use a brayer and fork pins to keep your fingers from getting burnt!
Once you’re all done sewing up your block, the back will look kind of like this (barring variations in what block you’re sewing of course.) I had already pressed some subunits, so there are a few seams pressed fully open, but you can see the majority of the ‘big’ seams are not open at all.

How to Press Open Seams from Smiles Too Loudly -- use a brayer and fork pins to keep your fingers from getting burnt!
Start by finger pressing the seams. Run your fingers along each seam, pushing downward, just like if you were creasing paper to make a paper airplane, or wrapping a present. You want to start coercing that seam flat. Because we all know, seams have a mind of their own, and will fight you if given half a chance.

How to Press Open Seams from Smiles Too Loudly -- use a brayer and fork pins to keep your fingers from getting burnt!
Once you’ve finger pressed the seams, you can roll the brayer over the seams, applying a firm downward pressure. This is just like if you’ve ever rolled out pie dough, just on a smaller, less delicious scale. (Carla jokes that I always make her hungry with my blog posts — Sorry Carla!!!)

How to Press Open Seams from Smiles Too Loudly -- use a brayer and fork pins to keep your fingers from getting burnt!
Ta-da! This is what those seams will look like after you’re done bray-ing them. (I’m making up words now.) Kind of flat, but still rebellious enough to flip any way they please. So now we bring in the big guns, uhhh, I mean the iron. A little heat will teach them who’s boss!

How to Press Open Seams from Smiles Too Loudly -- use a brayer and fork pins to keep your fingers from getting burnt!
This is where you want to PRESS, not IRON. Pressing is where you lift the iron straight up and down, ironing you slide back and forth. You do not want to slide the iron at this point. Pressing with the iron will follow with those good intentions you sowed with the finger pressing and brayer rolling. Ironing will mess that all up. So put the iron down on a section, count to three or so (depending on your iron, of course) then lift straight up. Place it down on another section, etc, etc, until all the seams have been pressed. Then you can flip over to the other side, the right side of the block, and iron, if you must. I usually must because then I can admire the pretty block. Admiration is a very important step of the quilting process. It is, just ask my cat.  But see how there are no fingers nearby? In fact, I did this one handed (because I only have two, and one was holding the iron, the other the camera). Not a chance in the world of burning fingers!!!

And here is where I would show you the picture I took of the back of the block so you can see how beautifully everything lies open. Except I forgot to take that picture. I was hungry, it was dinnertime, I got wrapped up in the admiration step and forgot to admire with my camera as well. Ooops.

By the power of the internet (and going to take the photo just now), I have a picture for you!

How to Press Open Seams from Smiles Too Loudly -- use a brayer and fork pins to keep your fingers from getting burnt!

So, what do you think? Did this remove a little of the pain in pressing open seams? Are you now a convert?

 

(Linking this to Stephanie’s Tips and Tutorial Tuesday)

(This block is one of my Friendship Supernova blocks. Yes, I’m finally going to finish those. Jo, you can stop sending the sad puppy eyes)

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11 thoughts on “How To: Press Open Seams (without burning your fingers!)

  1. I was always taught to press on the right side of the block or seam to avoid creating a crease. This method sounds interesting as well. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Agreed! I’ve seen a brayer in blog posts by Holly at Bijou Lovely, I think, and have been intrigued, but I don’t really burn my fingers while pressing seams open (am I totally weird?). I’m tempted to try one for mini piecing and paper piecing, though. Does it really get the seams fairly flat? Those pins are awesome, too!

  3. Thanks for sharing your technique in such detail. Never seen those pins before, they do look to be a really good aid. Do you always press your seams open? Pressing to the dark side seems to be loosing popularity these days.

  4. Brayer?! Is that what the little rolling widget is called?
    I confess I bought a pack of the fork pins but, because they are fatter than my superfine Clover pins, I gave them away. For me, the finer a pin, the better. I use two fine pins, one on each side of the seam, and pull them out at the last minute before sewing over the seam. Sometimes I leave it too late and the pin gets all bent out of shape, I admit.

  5. Awesome tutorial. I get annoyed going to the iron all the time, but finger-pressing never seems to work well for me. I may look for one of these!

  6. Was there a reason why all of your seams were to be pressed open? I learned to only press open where multiple seams come together. All other seams are to be pressed to the dark side. would really like to know.

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