Here’s something else that you may have come across in quilt patterns: you’re given a firm direction to PRESS not IRON. Well what the heck does that mean?
Think of the heavy old irons, clunky and not very sleek. And not particularly adept at skating across the surface. And that’s kind of what we want here. We want to PRESS the seam allowance into submission, making sure that there’s no extra folds on the surface. More of an up and down motion rather than an ice-skating glide. Not every quilter agrees on whether steam should be used to smash the seam allowance; I love steam’s ability to convince seam allowances to lay down quietly and stay where you put them (unlike toddlers), but if not used with care, steam can be used to create more distortion than you ever thought possible on a seam.
And the combo of an ice-skating glide with seam over a seam can produced curved seams where there weren’t any. Especially if that seam is on the bias of the fabric and was already sorta stretchy to begin with. (again why I like cotton thread, less elasticity than poly, more stability on the bias).
Also I prefer to press seam allowances from the front, so I can see if I am introducing a fold on the front (that’s where a seam doesn’t quite lay over where you expect it to). That’s not always practical, so if I’m pressing from the back I’m very mindful of what’s happening on the front, and I might do a light press on the back and then confirm with a light steam on the front.
The good news is that cotton responds to heat; the heat from your fingers alone can convince a seam allowance to lay over to the side. It’s especially helpful to have a ‘finger iron’ to use in this case, wooden or plastic, to get a crisper edge than you can mostly get with your fingernail. This is really great to remember when you’re paper piecing a billion spikes and don’t want to be wedded to your ironing station.
Most quilters prefer to ‘set’ the seam before folding the seam allowance over: and that just means pressing the seam in its sewn but prefolded state, with a small dash of seam if you like. This does help to crisp up the seam and helps it lay over properly.
Pressing will become personal preference, from everything to steam or not — or how much — to the type of sole plate you prefer on your iron. I’m happiest with a stainless steel sole plate, and I think they clean up easier and wear better than the non-stick finish varieties. If you do a lot of fusible applique you will want an iron that cleans up easily because it’s only a matter of time before you get fusible glue on your iron. I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten fusible glue on my iron with EVERY fusible project despite my best intentions. My favorite iron cleaner is by Rowenta and it works like a charm.
My irons last about 6 mos- 1 year, and it doesn’t seem to matter which brand name. Apparently I use them WAY more than the designers intended (every day for several hours often) and peculiarly, I don’t use them on clothes unless absolutely necessary. So I can safely say that I don’t IRON because I don’t. I PRESS :).
I will say the Sunbeam irons I’ve had have lasted through being dropped several times, so that says something positive about their designs. I’m just tough on them I guess — tough love???
I’m tough on my ironing board covers, too — they don’t usually last as long as the irons. I tend to scorch them, dye them, get fusible on them, etc. etc. again while trying not to. (I even have the applique pressing sheet and the marvelous box of parchment paper) .So I’ll just apologize and let you know that lots of my flickr tutorials that include ironing will be on very ugly ironing board covers. More tough love !