Wednesday, July 05, 2023

Quilting 101 Series: Positively Perfect Pressing - Pressing vs Ironing

Quilting 101 Series: Positively Perfect Pressing

The Mulberry Quilting Chapter has started a series of Quilting 101 topics.  Barbara Morse has been spearheading this endeavor and we have many different speakers (chapter members) on different topics about quilting basics.  So, I have taken the speaker notes and added my take, my thoughts and my opinions.  Read on.

Pressing Vs Ironing

ironing vs pressing in quilting


  • The act or process of pressing clothes with a heated iron.
  • The clothing pressed or to be pressed with a heated iron.Olisco Iron
  • In laundry-work: The act of smoothing with hot irons.

Ironing is the process where you 'scrub' the iron back and forth over a piece of clothing or other fabric; smoothing out wrinkles in a finished garment, or in fabric before it is marked and cut. This is done using a hot iron, sometimes steam, and a smoothing motion designed to settle the wrinkles out of the fabric.

Olisco Iron
Oliso TG1600 Pro Plus
1800 Watt SmartIron with Auto Lift


  • Using an iron to press wrinkles from a fabric or press a crease in place.

Pressing is designed to help a garment (or other project) take its proper shape. It typically uses as much steam as the fabric can handle without damage, as well as a slow, bit-by-bit motion that uses downward pressure to set each area before moving on to the next. Often, a quilter will slide the iron forward to the next area to press, but this traveling motion is very different from the sweeping, repeated passes used during ironing.

Ironing Tip!  

Check this out..  Did NOT know about this feature with an iron!  That is so cool.

I am going to have to check into this for ironing quilt binding!

Ironing a Quilt Top

  • Press don’t iron, take care not to distort your fabric
  • Use a flat board
  • Don’t use a puffy ironing board cover – use a flat cover.
My opinion -  Steam is your friend.  If it won't lie flat, add a spritz of water and more steam!!

Make Your Own pressing table (or Big Board)


1/2" or 5/8” plywood whatever length and width works for you.  Most run about 36" x 48".  Usually the big box stores will cut plywood for you. If you are like me, your hubby might have a partial sheet of plywood in the garage!.  

(Note: sheets of plywood are generally 48" x 96".  Maybe get with a couple of friends and make several boards.  Sometimes you can find a half sheet which is 48" x 48").  Can be costly.

Select a canvas-type fabric (such as outdoor fabric), staple gun, cotton batting (a couple of thicknesses of regular optionally use of of the “foil” backed batting recommended for ironing boards).  

I happen to have used a cheapo vinyl tablecloth with the vinyl side down  to the board.  Then I added a few additional layers, then topping off with an ironing board fabric.    

The big board I have I bought in 2003 ( 20 years ago).  I am a 'heavy steam user' and my board has not warped.  My top fabric has been worn out a few times.  I just pull that layer off and replace with a new layer of ironing surface.

Wool Pressing Mat

Worth the price for commercial wool pressing mats.  These are especially great when ironing applique or embroidery pieces.

However, you might be able to make your own using wool sweaters, it just won’t be as thick. Barb found a wool coat from a thrift store, undid seams and washed in very hot water to shrink (or felt) it. Piled a couple of layers on pressing table. Unfortunately, the pieces are irregular sizes and were not as successful as the professional wool pressing mat..

 Pro Tip: Press fabric before cutting – I like to do that and get a nice flat piece that I can fold very evenly so my cut strips don’t “bow” (make a V shape).

Spray Starch

Some quilters recommend spray starching the fabric before cutting, getting a clean, sharp cut. Personally, I do not do that but I do like to press my fabric before cutting and I usually spray with water or use steam.

There are some great mist/spray bottles available now. Hairdressers use them and they are available at Sally’s and other similar shops. I got mine from Amazon for just under $10. Tina pointed out smaller bottles available at the Dollar Store. The mist allows a nice even spray of fine mist that doesn’t need as much pumping, a blessing for even mildly arthritic hands.   Pump bottles give bursts of liquid vs a fine mist.

** Quilter’s Moonshine Recipe

To Steam or Not to Steam. 

Do you use steam for pressing? Some members use just dry irons but spray with water or Best Press.

I use mostly an iron with plenty of water to steam. When I have binding, getting ready to iron,  I spritz the pile of binding, then easily do the fold for binding.  My go to method to to 'steam the crap out of it'.  That being said, I still want the strips sets or blocks to be accurate.

Mary Ann’s philosophy, if you steam it, some shrinkage can occur. One caution, be careful not to distort your block, especially if working with fabrics on the bias. The steam/spray softens the fibers, don’t push or pull with your iron Use water / Starch / Best Press / Quilter’s Moonshine.
A few of our quilters use starch.

Linda C. makes her own starch by buying the concentrated Sta-Flo she gets from Walmart and mixing it to the strength she desires. 64 oz is just $3.52! See below for Quilter’s Moonshine recipes.**

Press to the Dark Side!

Usually. Press the piece closed (dark side up, flip back, press) then finger press or use a tool made for the purpose if your fingers are sensitive to the heat.  Most pressing tools are made of wood. (could use the blunt end of chop sticks!?) then use the iron’s side to give it that final “push”. but caution with bias edges! Pressing to one side will make “nesting” easier when joining blocks. Press open if many seams will be joined, as in many star blocks.

A final press when block is completed – again, steam? Starch? Best Press/Moonshine on the back and/or top will help keep it flat. In spite of the best 1/4 “ seam, without careful pressing, you can lose a bit for each seam meaning 1/2 an inch for a block with 4 seams or an 1/8th of an inch with 2 seams! Keep putting those blocks together and your quilt will not be sized as advertised. It won’t square up properly.

Cleaning Your Iron - Tips

  • Mary Ann P: - Fabric softener sheets work great. Just run your warm iron over the sheets and they come out shiny clean. 
  • Betty - Use rubbing alcohol (the hotter the percentage the better - 91% vs 70%  or 50%) ,  pour a bit on a scrap piece of fabric.  Rub HOT iron over the alcohol, sticky, yucky stuff comes off.
  • Iron Cleaners Iron cleaners are usually, this is a small tube of something you squirt on your hot iron, and then rub off on some scrap of fabric. 

You may also be interested in:

This Quilting 101 series is a compilation of the demonstrations and lectures that we have been providing to the Mulberry Chapter of the Quilt Guild Of The Villages. (QGOTV) in Florida. We began this series with various speakers. Many thanks to Barb, Dale, and MaryAnn and Betty B. for their contributions. I have been taking the notes and turning them into blog posts to share with other quilters.

Shadywood Quilts is a full service professional business that can help you complete your quilt at most any stage. We also 'fix' quilts made by non-professionals. If you get started, and don't feel you are going to be able to complete your quilt. Take pictures of your quilt in process, email it to us, and we can let you know if we can help you get it finished.


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