When to Use Steam and Starch in Patchwork

FEAT_SteamAndStarch As a beginning quilter, I am so lucky to work for a quilt book publisher like Landauer Publishing! When I have questions about quilting, not only am I  surrounded by experienced quilters who are very willing to share their knowledge, I have access to the experience and expertise of our authors—many of whom are also teachers and quilt instructors. I ran into just such a question a couple of weeks ago: when I am piecing my blocks, should I use steam to press the seams? What about starch? (Ack! I’ve never used starch! Could I mess something up?)

So, I reached out to three of our authors with these questions:

  • What advice would you give to a beginner about using steam and/or starch?
  • What mistakes do you see your students making when it comes to handling their work during pressing?
  • Do you have any tips or tricks that make your own work easier, quicker or more efficient?

Check out their advice, then share your own suggestions and tips in the comments below.

Penny Haren Penny Haren, author of Quilt Block Fusion and the Pieced Applique® series

“I steam everything BUT I press everything on a Steady Betty Pressing Mat which stops the fabric from stretching and distorting during pressing. Then I use Mary Ellen’s Best Press. This product has an additive that repels silverfish and moths—which can damage fabric during storage.

I also love the Betty B Flat Ironing Tool. When I press a seam, I place this flat iron on the seam until it cools—and it it totally flat!”

SandiBlackwell Sandi Blackwell, author of Simply Sensational Square-agonals® Quilts and 12 Easy Pieces

“When you press for quilting, you need to PRESS, not iron—lift your iron up and down and move across the fabric gently; don’t be rough and drag across the fabric.

When pressing any exposed bias (such as in triangles or when using the Square-agonals® technique), always use starch to give the fabric stability and help eliminate stretch of the bias. Remember that starch is not the same product as sizing. (Sizing gives fabric and garments the “new finish” feel that fabric and garments have when they are new.  After handling fabric that “new” feel wears off. Starch actually gives the fabric a stiffness and stabilized any stretching. So a starched shirt will have that firm crisp feel and look. A shirt with sizing will have  a newness look.)Also, NEVER use steam when pressing exposed bias edges. This will relax the fabric and encourage stretching.

On the other hand, you can use steam to relax and square up a finished block or quilt top.

Easy tip: buy a small, silicone spatula to help hold your seams open while pressing. It is heat resistant, inexpensive and saves your fingers!”

Carolyn Forster2014 Carolyn Forster, author of Utility Quilting and Quilting-on-the-Go—Taking It Further

“I don’t use starch, but I do suggest students try it for its stabilizing properties. I do use a steam iron.

The mistake I see most frequently is students not using a hot enough iron for long enough on their work to benefit it.

I always press my work from the front only, so I don’t get pleats at the seams. If you lay the work down correctly on the ironing board, then the seam is laying flat ready to press toward the seam allowance.”

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to find what works best for you and yields the best results for your work! Take a moment to weigh in, do you use steam when pressing your patchwork? How about starch? What tips, tricks and advice would you share with other quilters? Let us know in the comments below!


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