Pressing vs. Ironing

In my world of hard to break habits lies the mysterious world of ironing.
To explain I mean I have a tendency to want to iron my fabric, my seams, and my finished blocks instead of pressing them.
This is what happens when you iron a seam instead of pressing it.
What happens when you iron instead of  press
Because I forgot to press my seams (I ironed instead) I stretched out my fabrics.  When I sewed the block together I noticed that I had created what are called pin tucks.  Pin tucks happen when you stretch fabric to make it match another piece.  It’s very tempting to stretch block pieces so they’ll fit perfectly but resist!
One stretched seam amplifies itself many times over, ironing will aggravate it even more.
What’s the difference?
When you iron something, anything really, you’re essentially pulling and stretching the fibers of the fabric with a hot and somewhat heavy piece of metal.  You’re attempting to physically, and hopefully gently, stretch out any wrinkles in said fibers.
When you press something you are attempting to create a “wrinkle” or a seam in your fabric.  Pressing also, as the word implies, does not involve pushing, pulling or stretching fibers.  Permanent pressing involves lots of steam to “set” the seam.
When you’re piecing together a quilt block you’ll often see that the directions will tell you to PRESS open a seam or to PRESS a seam in one direction or towards another seam.  Pressing and ironing are two different methods and should never be treated as the same thing.

 Here’s how to press a seam.
Have your iron on a steam setting and on a heat setting appropriate to your fabric.  Cotton likes it hot.  In the beginning there will be wrinkles.

Become one with the wrinkles.  They’re okay.
In the beginning there are wrinkles

I like to prep the seam I need to press.
 Lay your iron over the seam and press for about 5-7 sec.  Just enough to let it heat the seam thru and maybe inject a little steam.
Set your seam
Being careful not to burn your fingers open up your fabric and lightly finger press it in the direction you need it to go.  The fabric WILL be toasty so be careful.
Opening up the set seam
Finger Pressing
Finger pressing it will let you work your fabric out to the seam line without stretching it out of shape.
Once it’s open, lay your iron on the opened seam area and press lightly again for 5-7 sec.  Let the steam do it’s magic, do not be tempted to move the iron back and forth.  We’re pressing, not ironing.
Pressing from the front
For good measure I like to flip the fabric over and press it from the back side as well.   I am pressing it in one direction, to the outside of the block which is what the directions instructed.
Flipped to the back
Pressing from the back
Repeat your pressing until all the seams you need pressed are done.  When done properly, pressing your seams will give you much better results, sharper corners and a completed block that will lay down nicely.
Start to Finish
If you forget to press and end up ironing your seam instead forgive yourself and make and effort to remember to press your next block 🙂  Even I still forget when I’m anxious to get things done to press instead of iron.
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