Wednesday, June 2, 2021

No-pressure quilting

Since I started posting daily to Instagram at the start of the year, I have been looking at a lot of posts by other quilters, because the Instagram algorithm is so great at identifying what you're interested in.  And while I have seen a whole lot of wonderful work, I've also seen a lot of photos that make me cringe. 

If you would like to cringe for yourself, go to instagram and search on #improvquilt or #improvquilting.  (The links also work if you're on a computer, not your phone.)

Specifically, photos where people have apparently lost the use of their irons.  It's obvious that if there was any pressing at all during construction of the blocks, it was slapdash.  I can imagine what these quilts are going to look like after quilting and finishing, and the picture isn't pretty.

All photos from other people's
Instagram posts

When I teach quilting I give my signature spiel in which I say I don't care about almost all of the quilt police rules.  Don't care if your seam allowances are 1/4 inch.  Don't care if your points match at the seamlines.  Don't care if your blocks are exactly square, or if your seamlines are exactly straight, or your quilting stitches are all the same length.  But there is one thing that I REALLY care about, enough to make up for all those that I don't bother with.  I care that you press obsessively and thoroughly, that you press every seam open before you cross it with another seam. that you press every block perfectly before you trim it to size and join it to others.

It's particularly important with curved seams; even if the two pieces don't match exactly you can usually coax them into perfect alignment with a spritz of water and a hot iron to urge the bias threads into obedience.  

What disturbs me even more about these unpressed blocks and entire tops that people are so proud of that they post them to instagram is that many of them have made their pieces in workshops with (presumably) qualified teachers.  

I don't know how online quilt instruction works, but I would hope that teachers are asking their students to send photos, and that they are pointing out pluses and minuses of the work.  And how could teachers possibly overlook the glaring lack of pressing?????

I would hate to think that the teachers don't notice, or that they notice but don't care.  In my opinion any teacher who approves of work like these examples should lose her teaching license.  Oh wait, you don't need a license to be a quilt teacher, anybody who stays one block ahead of the rest of the class can promote herself as a guru and apparently attract lots of people willing to pay to "learn" from her.

I just read an instagram post, complete with photo of unpressed blocks, in which the author adorably tells us "Okay here's all the secrets to making an improv quilt."

Secret #5 reads: "Iron the seams once in a while but only when your butt starts falling asleep and you have to stand up."  

I know this is meant to be charming and humorous, not really serious, but it helps spread the idea that pressing is optional, that improvisational quilting = sloppy quilting.  And that makes me crabby.  Way more than crabby, if you must know.

Want to learn how to press your quilts in progress?  Check out my tutorial here, and then read on for curved seams.  Take my word for it, if you learn to press properly, and more important, if you make yourself do it all the time, your quilts will look vastly better and it will be vastly easier to work with them.  

Now to figure out how to get the word out to all those people on instagram!



  1. I certainly hope these are your photos and not one's you took from Instagram. You are so right about pressing, but cannot take other"s work as examples without permission

    1. I might have made blocks that look like this in 1964 when I started to do piecing, but I think even then I had higher standards. I did take these from Instagram. Apparently that wasn't clear from my remarks, so I went back and clarified the post.

      I think you are suggesting that my showing other people's photos is some kind of copyright violation. That's not true. The federal Copyright Act states that "the fair use of a copyrighted work.... for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright." I am not hijacking the images for commercial gain or depriving the makers of revenue. And I'm sure the makers of these sorry blocks would not like me to name them.

  2. Personally, I only post finished pieces - I can’t see the point in putting sloppy unfinished work out for the world to see. I am sure that many of your examples in this article will come together and look good once they are quilted, but why expose them when they look messy? (I agree with you on the pressing issue by the way)

  3. Posting unfinished work to specifically show process is different to just showing what you did at the latest workshop...

  4. I couldn't agree more, although i do like it when points are pointed! What i don't get is how do people think they are going to be able to successfully quilt this. If it looks bad now it will look worse when quilted, I guarantee it.

  5. Sigh... So many people, so few irons. I've been teaching on Zoom, and making people press is harder than in real life (in an IRL class, I have been known to wander about taking blocks to the ironing board, no-one seems to mind at all...) I had a book (not going to name it) which suggested that seams need not be pressed, or a good match for size, or a similar shape.. The resulting quilts were and are horrible, but at least they could have been pressed... Were they? No.. And, yes copyright is not broken by fair comment, critique, or teaching.

  6. Improv quilts are made of puzzle pieces and how can they possibly fit together if they are not pressed?! Press, press, press!!!

  7. Amen and Thank You! Improv does not mean sloppy/poor construction. Those examples you've shown are excellent for proving that point!

  8. This goes for people making clothes as well!
    Vancouver Barbara

  9. I admit that I don't press with an iron as frequently as I should, especially when making single blocks for a sampler style quilt. I don't have enough room to safely set up an iron at the machine to press after each seam. The iron lives in another room. I do use my seam roller frequently though. I do much better pressing as I go when I can chain stitch a bunch of the same thing, by that time I'm ready to get up and take a break from the machine.

    One thing that frequently gets me confused is which way and how to press seams. So many rules that end up conflicting - MUST always press toward the dark, MUST always press to one side, MUST always press away from crossing seams, MUST blahblahblah.... Yeesh! So often, there's no way can all be done at the same time on the same quilt.

    Thanks for the links to your pressing tutorials. I'll be reviewing your advice especially on which direction to press.

    1. If you can find a copy, check out Press For Success by Myrna Giesbrecht (1996). It answers all the questions you've posed here, guiding you through strategies to best end up with a (mostly) lump-free top. And also when and how best to break some of those "must" rules. Actually no such thing as "must" rules, except for that pressing one. :-)

  10. Makes me crabby too! And puts me in mind of all those unquilted antique tops that if you unfold them and spread them out, it becomes clear why they were never quilted. They will never lie flat and smooth, even though the blocks may have been pressed in progress. So many IMPORTANT things to be aware of as one pieces away, even improvisationally, in order to have a happy and good-looking outcome.