Perfect points make your patchwork look so great. It’s what we all want, but how do you achieve it?
Pressing diagonal seams
It may surprise you to learn that one of the best ways to ensure perfect points is to think about which way to press the seams – particularly the diagonal ones. You have probably been taught to “always press the seams behind the dark fabrics” – but I am going to show you that there are times when it is best to ignore this rule. Once you have tried it, you’ll realise what a difference it makes.
Look at these points – they look perfect on the front, but as you can see on the back, some of the seams are pressed behind the lighter fabric, not the dark (and you can’t see a shadow on the front, can you?).
I have already written about the basics of pressing vertical & horizontal seams to get a good line-up, and I suggest you read that blog first if you haven’t already done so.
It helps you get good results in projects such as Amish Squares shown to the right.
The blog about Don’t chop off the Points also has useful stitching tips.
The key is to make sure that wherever diagonal seams meet to form a point, they must be pressed in opposite directions. This will not only make sure that bulk is reduced to a minimum, but will allow you to “shuffle” the seam allowances so that they sit snugly next to one another. This gives a good line up, creating those perfect points.
All the patterns in my Shop have this built in already – I have worked out for you the best direction to press all the seams, so you can just follow the instructions, and amaze your friends with your perfect points.
If you would like to do this as a workshop with Carolyn, she is teaching it as a twilight session at the Festival of Quilts
How does it work?
Carolyn shows you how it works in this short video:
The easiest way to understand this is to make four half square triangle units, and press behind the darker fabric. Now experiment with them as follows:
Take two, and placing them right sides together with the Dark triangles over the Light triangles, “shuffle” the diagonal seams until they nestle snugly together. Pin across the diagonal seam to hold securely in place, and then stitch a seam along the side, which should give a neat meeting of the points.
Now place the other two half square triangle units right sides together with the Dark triangle over the Dark triangle.
The seams are now over each other. Can you feel how this makes a very bulky join, with a sudden jump from two thicknesses of fabric to six? If this were stitched, any careful lining up is liable to move under the foot, even if pinned, as the machine tries to spread out the sudden bulk. This gives a clumsy point.
Re-press one of the seams so that it now goes behind the Light fabric. Put back together, and you will find that you can shuffle them together between your fingers so that the seams nestle closely again. It feels much flatter, and allows a perfect point to be made when the seam is stitched.
Planning a whole block
Use this principle whenever joining units with diagonal seams in order to get good crisp points. It’s not difficult to learn how to work out the best pressing direction yourself, but it is best to plan beforehand which way the seams need to be pressed – and this can be quite tricky until you are used to it!
See how Carolyn thinks about this for a whole block:
You may find it helpful to have some more half square triangle units to play with, as many people find it difficult to visualise the connection between the direction of the seam pressing on a flat diagram, and the feel of opposing seams when held right sides together.
The following tips should help:
- You only need to worry about pressing direction of diagonal seams if the two half square triangle units meet to form a point. If the seams are parallel, they don’t meet, so it doesn’t matter which way they go!
- Looking at a place where the tips of points meet, the diagonal seam directions will appear to spiral round if they are correct. Have a look at the green arrows in these diagrams.
If the pattern contains a lot of scattered individual triangles, such as Pinwheel or Broken Dishes,it will have vertical and horizontal seams joining Dark to Light. When making the half square triangle units for these, the diagonal seams need to be pressed either both behind the Dark (this is preferable if possible) or both behind the Light.
If the design (such as Square in a Square) contains solid areas where vertical or horizontal seams join Dark to Dark or Light to Light, the diagonal seams which meet at the straight seam need to pressed so that one is pressed behind the Dark, and one is pressed behind the Light.
Blocks to try out
- Many designs such as Windblown Square or Star Puzzle contain both sorts of joins, so all the rules need to be used together.
- Using a pen, draw out the whole block with the units separated, and then (using a pencil now) draw arrows on the diagonal seams to show which way to press them.
- Do the awkward places where lots of points join first, and this will dictate where the others go.
- Remember to look at the places where the diagonal seams meet. The pressed seams need to spiral around here.
- This is how I worked out the pressing for the Windblown Square block pictured.
- Make sure that you look at both ends of each diagonal seam
- If you have drawn your block in pen, and done the working out of the pressing direction in pencil, you can rub some out and adjust them if needed.
- Now lay out your half-square triangle units exactly as in the diagram. Pick two neighbouring units up, and place them together as if you were going to sew the seam.
- Do the diagonal seams meet pressed in opposite directions? Good – now check another pair.
- Now stitch the block together. To avoid turning units round by mistake, or stitching the wrong seam, “string piece” them together. If you don’t know how to do this, click on this link which will take you to guidance and another video on my website.
Here is another block, Star Puzzle:
Why not draw this one out, and have a go yourself, before checking against mine?
Here is the pressing that I worked out, and the back of the completed block:
It may sound obvious, but remember that a seam cannot be pressed behind the Dark at one end and behind the Light at the other!
If you get stuck, remember that you can always change both seam directions at any junction without causing a problem – i.e. change Dark/Dark to Light/Light, or Dark/Light to Light/Dark.
Once you have planned it, why not try making up one or both of these blocks to see what a difference it makes? You can download all this guidance or a free one-page document with instructions and the pressing diagrams from the Shop. Look at the second video again – and don’t forget to alternate the pressing of the vertical seams as well. Do post a photo on the UKQU Facebook page if you are pleased with the results.
If you would like to try out these ideas, but are not confident about planning the pressing of a block yourself, then why not try making this little Double Cat block? You can download the pattern free with lots of hints and tips.
Have a look at the projects in my Shop as all of the patterns I sell have the pressing pre-planned for you.
If you use the Discount Code PPPDS at the checkout, this will give you a 50% discount on the usual price of any of the patterns mentioned in this blog.
The project that would be particularly helpful to practice these techniques is the Provencal Sampler. This has fifteen different blocks of gradually increasing difficulty, with all the pressing carefully worked out for you. Choose your own fabrics in a favorite colour scheme, using the guidance in the Colour & Contrast blog. If you didn’t want to make a whole quilt, you could pick out a few of the blocks to practice on, or to make into cushions.
Other suitable projects are:
Do try this technique for yourself – it really does make a difference.