Pressing matters: Part 2

April 2022

Covering Quilts

Pressing matters: Part 2

by Sandra Starley

Last month I wrote about the importance of properly pressing quilt blocks rather than ironing. I am back to share more hot topics. Quilters do take pressing issues quite seriously. #pressingmatters was even one of the daily prompts in the popular March Instagram posting event: #igquiltfest. Quilters follow a month of posting prompts or guidelines and share relevant pictures and tips. Read below and then also search under these tags to see more product information and many wonderful quilts.

Wool Pressing Mats

In addition to favorite irons and pressing sprays, the two most mentioned items for precise piecing were wool pressing mats and wooden tailor’s clappers. Wool pressing mats are available in a variety of sizes. Small ones are handy in a pressing station next to your sewing machine. This is a terrific way to make sure you press each seam before sewing the next one. But most people recommend you set them up away from your machine so you get up and move regularly.

Larger mats can be placed on a standard ironing board. So why are they so wonderful? The wool conducts heat very well resulting in crisply pressed seams. It heats both sides of your fabric at the same time. Another excellent choice is to make your own big pressing station by covering a large board with a wool blanket and then covering the unit with a heavy fabric. This makes your whole surface a wool mat.

Tailor’s Clappers

Wooden tailor’s clappers are another old tool that has become trendy. They are simply heavy pieces of wood that are placed on top of seams after pressing to further flatten and set the seams. Quilters are raving about the magic they create in terms of precisely pressed seams. They are available in assorted sizes and with simple or elaborate woodworking details. You can get clappers with other decorative designs like flowers or bees. For a totally unique tool, you can have a custom clapper made with your company name, logo, or the name of your “sewing studio.”

Other Clever Iron Alternatives

In addition to irons that come in many price points and a variety of sizes and colors, there are myriad gadgets to help you press on. From wooden rollers to pressing sticks, woodworkers are busy creating many useful tools besides the tailor’s clappers. Often, these small tools are used at the sewing machine to do an initial press after sewing a seam. The tools are an alternative to using a fingernail to press open a seam; known as “finger pressing.”



Quilt Pressing tools

Pressing tools, old and new

Pressing tools, old and new, on a wool mat. (Image courtesy of the author)


Quilters Moonshine?

More about flattening sprays or starch; I previously mentioned that some quilters love to heavily starch and literally soak/drench their fabric before pressing while others do not use it at all. Some quilters buy commercial quilting pressing concoctions (starch alternatives) like Best Press or Flatter. Others make their own moonshine spray – the main ingredient is cheap vodka (hence the name) along with distilled water.

Recipes also may include liquid starch, which makes a thicker, stronger spray. You mix the ingredients and add essential oil of your choice if you like scented spray. Use in a spray bottle to zap pesky wrinkles and control seams. And since quilting is such a creative business, you will not be surprised to find that you can buy fillable decorative spray bottles designed with quilters in mind.

One example features quilted stars and the direction to “Keep Calm and Quilt On!” Great advice for us all.

Sandra Starley is nationally certified quilt appraiser, quilt historian, and avid antique quilt collector. She travels throughout the U.S. presenting talks on antique quilt history, fabric dating classes and trunk shows as well as quilting classes. Learn more at Send your comments and quilt questions to

Quilters, press on – Pressing matters!

March 2022

Covering Quilts

Quilters, press on – Pressing matters!

by Sandra Starley

It may sound silly to newcomers, but pressing in quilting is serious business. Note that I say pressing rather than ironing, and no, they are not the same thing. Quilters’ families with piles of wrinkly clothes know that quilters like to press fabric and quilt blocks but are generally not inclined to iron. So what is the difference, and does it really matter? Pressing and ironing are two separate things, and yes, it really does matter. But first a bit of clarification of terminology since an “iron” is both a noun — the heated metal object — as well as a verb signifying the action of moving that object to “iron” a shirt. So, the iron-y is, you still need to use an iron to press.

Pressing Versus Ironing?

Pressing, as the name implies, is pressing or placing the iron on a piece of fabric or a quilt block and then lifting the iron and replacing it on another section of the fabric. Ironing is actively sliding the iron back and forth across the fabric. For precise patchwork, lift, place and press your iron rather than slide the iron. Pressing keeps fabric grain and blocks stable, while ironing can distort fabric grain and make your blocks and seams wonky. You should never attack your blocks with an iron or iron in a random manner. In fact, serious quilters plan their seams and include pressing instructions in their patterns.

Closed Versus Open Seams?

Pressing to the Dark Side?

The next big question is, should you press your block seams together to the side or open? As a general rule and for stability, it is good to press your seam allowances to one side. But first, it is a good practice to set your patchwork seams by pressing the sewn piece right sides together, then open the piece and press to the side. Which side? Generally, press toward the darker of the two fabrics. This helps prevent dark fabric from shadowing or showing through the light fabric. Some seams will need to be pressed to the light side. If so, check the seam and trim the dark if it is shadowing.

Side pressing often allows patchwork seams to nest or abut each other for more precise piecing. When multiple seams come together you may need to twist the intersecting seams open so they can lie flat (see photo). It is so fun to see a little pinwheel appear when you loosen the seam. Pressing to one side makes it easier to avoid sewing through seams when hand or machine quilting, especially stitch in the ditch. However, if there are a lot of seams and intersections in your top, you may need to press the major or long seams open so the quilt will lie flat. And if you will be machine quilting in an overall or free-motion design, open seams will make the process easier.

quilted fabric postcard

Back of a pieced pinwheel block

The back of a pieced pinwheel block. The seams are pressed to the dark side with the center twisted open to lie flat. (Image courtesy of the author)



To Steam or Not To Steam?

Some quilters love hot, steamy irons, and others dislike them. I tend to avoid steam unless I have bulky seams I need to subdue, and then it comes in handy. Starch or other pressing or flattening mediums are another personal preference. Some quilters use starch by the gallon, and others don’t like it. I tend to use it only for stubborn wrinkles or bulky seams. As with most things quilty, test and try out a variety of techniques until you find what works best for you.

Press on! And don’t forget the most important thing is to have fun.


Sandra Starley is nationally certified quilt appraiser, quilt historian, and avid antique quilt collector. She travels throughout the U.S. presenting talks on antique quilt history, fabric dating classes and trunk shows as well as quilting classes. Learn more at Send your comments and quilt questions to

Quilted fabric postcards – A piece of mail, a real work of art

February 2022

Covering Quilts

Quilted fabric postcards – A piece of mail, a real work of art

by Sandra Starley

Last month I wrote about starting the year off right by learning to quilt or trying a different method of quilting. Stretching your brain with new and challenging techniques keeps your mind active. Why not use quilting to add art and beauty to your world? A fun challenge is creating miniature art pieces. Making mailable mini postcard quilts, aka “art to mail,” is a fun way to brighten your day and that of your friends. Yes, these are little quilty postcards that you can send to your family, friends, soldiers, veterans, etc.

Basic Supplies

The sky is the limit as to what techniques or supplies you can use, but here are the essentials. Like a quilt, your card needs three layers – patterned or decorative front (top), fusible stabilizer (middle), and fabric or cardstock (backing). You just need a few pieces of fabric for the front and a plain rectangle for the address (back side). Add some fusible interfacing or stabilizer to give the postcard support. Fast2Fuse, which has iron-on glue on both sides or something similar, works well. You can use a dense piece of batting and add fusible. A sewing machine and thread come in handy for piecing and quilting and for the securing the edges. The United States Post Office does have some regulations you need to follow for mailing. Your postcard should finish at 4 inches high and 6 inches wide and be no thicker than 1/8 inch.

Create A Design

You can sew a simple piecing design and then fuse it to the top, or you can sew directly onto the interfacing. Pick a pretty piece of fabric and just use that as your front. There are no rules (well, except for those USPS ones listed previously). You can add quilting or not, your choice. Since the front is fused to the center by ironing them together, quilting is not necessary, but it does add interest. If you are a quilter, grab a leftover block or part of a UFO (unfinished object) and use that rather than making something.

Challenge Yourself

Because the design space is small, it is the perfect place to experiment or test out new materials. Have you always wanted to try fabric painting? Give it a go. Or do you have a set of watercolor fabric crayons? I used mine to make an Edgar Allen Poe Raven postcard. Add embellishments or yarn couching or other mixed media. But remember if you have yarn or other items that could get caught in a mail sorting machine, it is best to send your card in an envelope.


quilted fabric postcard

Quilted fabric postcard

Example of a quilted fabric postcard. (Image courtesy of the author)


Finishing and Mailing

Next, you need to add a backing to your postcard. A plain piece of muslin or neutral fabric works well or even cardstock or manila folder piece. Fuse the fabric onto the back of the stabilizer. Measure and trim down the postcard unit to 4 x 6 inches. Finish by machine stitching along the edges using a satin stitch. Your card is now ready to be addressed and mailed. Be sure to divide the back into two sections like a commercial postcard and write postcard and your address on the left side. Put the mailing address on the right side and add postage. You will need to use at least a regular mail stamp (not a postcard stamp). Or take the card in and make sure you have the proper postage and get it hand canceled. I hope you are inspired to create and share a piece of art via snail mail. Challenge your friends and do a postcard art exchange. Start creating!


Sandra Starley is nationally certified quilt appraiser, quilt historian, and avid antique quilt collector. She travels throughout the U.S. presenting talks on antique quilt history, fabric dating classes and trunk shows as well as quilting classes. Learn more at Send your comments and quilt questions to

New Year’s resolution – New FUN!!! Start quilting or learn a new quilting skill

January 2022

Covering Quilts

New Year’s resolution – New FUN!!! Start quilting
or learn a new quilting skill

by Sandra Starley


Celebrate than by learning something new

We are starting a new year, and what better way to celebrate than by learning something new? If you have never sewn or quilted before, now is a great time to start. Quilting is a wonderful way to stretch your brain and your fingers (or sewing machine). If you have always wanted to learn to sew and quilt, there has never been a better time than now. Why? Because there is an amazing array of online resources available for the beginner quilter. New quilting YouTube videos and how-to tutorials are added every hour. New online classes and conferences are added weekly. The current powerhouse in the quilting world, The Missouri Star Quilt Co., was literally built on how-to videos. It started as one small store and now is an empire. The company has revitalized an entire town, region and industry.

Start Sewing

Don’t overthink – just do it! Too often, people worry about how to start or think they don’t know enough to begin. Remember, it is only fabric. They will make more. Everyone has to start somewhere. Even the most accomplished award-winning artists have humble first quilts. Buy some fabric and some basic tools and get started. Borrow a sewing machine or get a simple model used from a local sewing center. Or start with old-school handwork. If you are more comfortable learning in person, find a local beginning quilting class or an online live instruction class. Look for an area or regional quilt guild either in person or online. There are so many options: traditional, reproduction or modern are just a few styles to explore.

Learn New Skills

Learning new techniques is an awesome way to exercise your brain. Like doing crossword or Sudoku puzzles, trying out and mastering new sewing skills gives your mind an excellent workout. Learning and growing is a wonderful way to keep yourself young and active. You can create great art for your walls, snuggly quilts for your couch, or presents for your friends and family. You can make quilts to honor soldiers or help people in need. There are so many possibilities to share and contribute to the quilting world.

New Year, New Challenge

Though I’ve issued a challenge for new quilters, stretching your brain isn’t just for the beginning quilter. Even the most veteran and creative quilter can benefit from getting out of their comfort zone and exploring new methods.


And Your Bird Can Sing

An original design - And Your Bird Can Sing

And Your Bird Can Sing, an original design made for Beatles Challenge. I learned machine applique and machine quilting on this quilt. 2013, Sandra Starley. (Image courtesy of the author)


It is common for quilters to get used to working in one style and using the same tools, so break out of your rut and try something new! If you always sew with traditional reproduction fabrics, buy a new fat quarter bundle of batiks, plaids or bold prints like Kaffe Fassett or Tula Pink fabrics.


Now is the time

Do you have a friend whose style is the polar opposite of yours? Why not do a fabric trade to challenge each of you with new fabrics? If your go-to technique is English paper piecing or foundation paper piecing, give hand applique a chance. Never tried hand quilting or hand embroidery?

Now is the time. You don’t have to start big; you can just add a little hand quilting or embroidery to embellish a machine-quilted piece. Try out fabric paint or a new cutting system. Baby steps are still steps and create growth.

Remember: the only real quilting rule is to relax and have fun!

Sandra Starley is nationally certified quilt appraiser, quilt historian, and avid antique quilt collector. She travels throughout the U.S. presenting talks on antique quilt history, fabric dating classes and trunk shows as well as quilting classes. Learn more at Send your comments and quilt questions to

The quilting essential is fabric!

December 2021

Covering Quilts

The quilting essential is fabric!

by Sandra Starley


Fabric is an essential component

A quilter without fabric is like an artist without paint or a carver without wood. Fabric is an essential component of making a quilt, and most quilters have a large stash on hand. Quilts get a great deal of their personality from the fabrics used in the piecing or applique. Using different colors or styles of fabric can totally change the pattern. Fabric colors and designs change constantly, and styles that are available one season are often gone in the next season, so a healthy reserve is important.

If you are new to quilting, you probably don’t know that there are a number of ways to buy fabric. I don’t mean buying online or in person (that is another story) but all the different units in which fabric is packaged and sold. To start with the basics: fabric is generally sold in yard units (36 inches by approximately 44 inches). Depending on your needs and the quilt store, you can purchase several yards or buy smaller cuts like half yards (18” x 44”) or quarter yards (9” x 44”) or even smaller cuts. This was the standard for years, but around the mid-1980s, quilt shops started selling a new cut called the fat quarter that measured 18” x 22”. This new wider and squarer cut was a more useable size for many projects than the standard quarter yard strip. It also allowed quilters to add more variety to their quilting projects while saving money with the smaller cut. One could now get a good-sized piece of fabric without buying a half yard or more. And buying more fabric and having more options is always a good thing. Retailers figured out that quilters loved the convenience of grabbing a pretty piece of already-cut fabric. They began cutting up fat quarters and creatively displaying them for impulse purchases. Coordinating fabrics were grouped or bundled together for more quick buying. No need to wait in line to have fabric cut; you could just grab a few and be on your way. This became a great way to sell fabric, especially at quilt shows or at fabric shops in tourist towns where people might stop in for just a few minutes.

Fat quarters of fabric
Fat quarters of the new fabric line Sew Good by Deborah Fisher with Ruby & Bee solids, courtesy of Windham Fabrics. (Image courtesy of Sandra Starley)

 Since the 1990s, the number of cuts, now known as “pre-cuts,” have expanded greatly from the humble fat quarters into a mind-boggling array of tempting choices. From hometown shops bundling a few fat quarters, the pre-cut niche of the fabric market has become a serious money maker.

Fabric companies realized moving beyond the bolt was a wonderful way to create new interest. Most manufacturers offer fat quarter collections, and fat eight cuts to market new fabric lines. They also cut and package lines in 10-inch square groupings and cute little 5-inch stacks. These are an ideal way to buy a sampling of new fabrics without paying for yards of fabric at a time. They are also perfect for quilters who like to make small quilts or scrappy quilts.

Pre-cuts have changed the quilting industry and the way many people sew and collect fabric. Now quilting books and tutorials are written specifically to help quilters use all these different pre-cuts. Patterns often include a note that they are fat-quarter friendly or work with layer cakes (10-inch squares) or charm packs (5-inch squares). There are now many quilters who have lovely collections of fat quarter bundles that decorate their sewing rooms. After all, stamp collectors don’t use their treasures to mail letters.

Sandra Starley is nationally certified quilt appraiser, quilt historian, and avid antique quilt collector. She travels throughout the U.S. presenting talks on antique quilt history, fabric dating classes and trunk shows as well as quilting classes. Learn more at Send your comments and quilt questions to