Quilting Blog

Can the Way You Press Seams Affect Your Quilt Design?

There are plenty of online tutorials for how to press quilt seams, but few people talk about the why. Did you know that the direction your press your quilt seams will effect the rest of your quilting decisions? I’d like to share how different methods of pressing seams can influence the overall look of a finished quilt.

pretty longarm quilting

Find out how the way you press your quilt seams can effect your quilting design choices

Photo via laugh yourself into stitches

Before you get started…

Heat set your seam before pressing!

Heat set your quilt seams before pressing

Before pressing seams as we’ll discuss, heat set them first! Apply a couple seconds of heat to flatten the seam before pressing.

Some find this step unnecessary; I don’t. I find this step helps set the seam securely, accurately and “squares it up” if needed. Of course, if the seam seems a bit too wonky or out of shape, take it out and redo. You may find reading our previous blog post “Make it Square, Part 2” very helpful. Careful unit construction is essential for block success!

Pressing Option 1: Press to One Side

Many quilt patterns and quilt teachers suggest pressing seams in one direction. This means to press both seam allowances to one side.

Pressing seam in one direstion

When seams are pressed in one direction or folded to one side, it allows the quilting design to include what is traditionally known as stitching in the ditch or SID. The needle pierces into the seam, yet is protected by the direction of the fold.

Press quilt seams in one direction

Below is an example of stitching in the ditch. The white thread is stitched directly into the seam line.

stitching in the ditch

In the photo below, many of the blocks include stitching in the ditch. SID divides a block nicely into sections, which enhances the individual pieced units in the block. The perimeter of each block is also stitched in the ditch, giving the feathers a little extra poof.

beautiful custom freehand quilting

Pressing Option 2: Pressed Open

When seams are pressed open, stitching in the ditch is not an option. The needle would go directly into the open seam, catching only threads.

how to press quilting seams

Quilting designs for pressed-open seams can be just as effective as quilting designs for seams that are folded and pressed to one side.

In the examples below, the machine quilting designs move away from the seams. The quilting may go over the seams, but never includes stitching directly into the seam lines

beautiful custom freehand quiltingbeautiful custom freehand quilting

On a personal note, I enjoy the ability to stitch in the ditch. I find it helps make the block pop. However, this effect can also be achieved by stitching a quarter inch away from the seam line if the seams are pressed open.

When an all-over, edge-to-edge or pantograph quilting design is chosen, it does not matter whether the seams are pressed to one side or opened. The quilting design will be stitched consistently over all the seams and the entire quilt. Lattice star is quilted with a spiral pantograph.

Lattice Star quilt pattern

Lattice Stars pattern via Craftsy member laugh yourself into Stitches*

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I’ve including stitch in the ditch on many quilts that have the seams ironed open. I’ve never had a seam fall apart with many years of wear and washing. It can still be done even if you don’t press to the side.


You have been lucky. I have had thread pop and have to go back and hand sew to fix. For the most part I do as grandma did. Press seams to the dark. Seams that are press open need to be on small pieces or little used pieces.


I too have stitched in the ditch on seams ironed open. The trick is to reduce the length of your stitches. On my Janome I use 1.3. When I paper piece or hand stitch, I stitch 12-15 per inch. Larger stitches will not stay in the stressed seams and pop out. I love the flatness of seams pressed open as they don’t interfere with the quilting designs.

karen walker

Thank you Jesse, Carol and April for your comments. The intent of my blog post is to share some thoughts on how pressing seams can influence the way one decides on a quilting design. As a longarm quilter, i really hesitate to stitch in the ditch when the majority of seams are pressed open. I can’t be guaranteed that the quilter has reduced their stitch length which can help strengthen the seam some, but it still makes me nervous. 🙂
Quilting is a wonderful pastime…and there are many ways to accomplish the end results. I’m a big believer in: Learn as much as you can, keep learning, share, and then do what works for you.
Happy Quilting!


I’m a new quilter and found this info. Very helpful. I’m trying ironing the seams to one side as I plan to stitch in the ditch around my finished squares. Will this affect the inner design if I stitch in those pieces as well?

karen walker

Hi Cathy,
I think stitching in the ditch around each block enhances what you will quilt inside the block. Have fun!

Beth b

Other reasons for pressing to one side: 1) if the fabric pulls at all during quilting or use, you’re not left with thin lines of batting peeking through; 2) the thread in the seam is better protected from fraying and breakage, making the seam stronger.


“How pressing AFFECTS”…

Thanks for the advice on pressing!

Sue Simon

I rarely Stitch right in the ditch, because if you jump over accidentally to the side you’ve pressed to, it looks messy and obvious. If you Stitch right next to the ditch, just a couple of threads away, there’s less chance of that happening, and you get the same effect as stitching in the ditch. If you keep it standard over the whole quilt, it becomes a “design element” rather than an “oopsie”.

Glorianne Andersen

I find it so disrespectful when people comment only to argue with the article. What this article says about SID and open seams only makes sense. If a needle punctures the seam thread it will break.

That’s not an opinion it’s a fact. If a needle punctures your finger it will bleed. Again – fact.

Just because it hasn’t happened to you …. yet doesn’t mean what she’s saying is untrue. It’s saying, in my opinion that you either quilt the snot out of your quilt and didn’t notice or you gave the quilt away and didn’t notice.

This reminds me of the time a friend of mine was convinced that her sewing machine had the ability to see over pins. One day at a retreat her needle struck the pin so hard that it jammed the pin behind the hook assembly. Costly repair. From that day forward she never again claimed her sewing machine had magical powers. True story.


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