Ask Jo: Many Right Ways

Since I’ve been doing more Youtube videos I’ve gotten a lot more comments and exposure to people who don’t read the blog.  It’s almost like I have a new audience.  I love meeting and being part of more people’s lives so it’s been kind of fun.   In meeting new people I do get some of my old questions that people who aren’t familiar with me ask.  You can find me on Youtube HERE.

The most common question I’m getting is the perennial question about how I iron or how I don’t even iron at all.

This is the latest version that came in, “I love your videos, but I have a question. The quilt classes I have taken have all stressed not to iron, but to press. It looks like you are ironing. What don’t I understand?

First off…I have to say there are many right ways.  Back in my 15 years ago days, I taught classes for childcare providers.  In the state of Iowa, all childcare providers have to take continuing education classes.  I taught several of them.  One was for new childcare providers who provided care out of their homes and one of the evenings we talked about how each of us has a setup in our home.  Each is different and each can still be good.  Our focus was on talking about how there isn’t “one way” to take care of children.  As moms, grandmas and aunts, we all know that but it’s a great reminder that there isn’t just one way…and I want to propose that there isn’t one right way of sewing either.

This is entirely true with quilting.  You can take 10 different classes from 10 different instructors and the 10 different instructors are going to have 10 different ideas and opinions on the best way to do something.  Your job isn’t to just grab the information from the instructor and make it your bible.  Your job is to take the information, try it out and see if you want to make it your own.

There are thousands of “named” quilt designers.  I am positive they all didn’t get together and decide there is only one way to make a quilt and this is the best way…so, there isn’t just one way.  Each “named” designer has come up with their own way…their own method…their own preference.  That’s what you should do too!!

For years and years and years, we have all been told that a quarter-inch seam allowance is the best.  I often now hear all sorts of people touting that really it should be a scant quarter-inch, especially when making half-square triangles.  So which is right?  Which should we do?  Does it really make a difference?  I don’t know.  I am encouraging you all to try it out and do what you think.

Pre-Covid and pre my daughter Kelli having kids, Kelli and I did some trunk shows and taught a few quilting classes.  Kelli and I had numerous talks about what we were going to teach.  I had very limited experience with actually attending a quilting class so I didn’t know what people expected.  In the few classes, I did go to there was a high expectation to learn a technique from the teacher…UGH.  I felt so terrible.  I didn’t feel I had a recognizable technique.  I thought I would be a terrible teacher because people were expecting some amazing technique that would change their quilting life.  It was terrible pressure on me.

Then one day it hit me….

My premise with teaching classes is to find yourself.  Sift through all the things you’re been told, experiment with new ideas, and the bottom line, LEARN TO FUDGE IT!!

The best and most used tool in any successful quilter’s repertoire is learning to fudge it.  Seriously.  You are going to be given so many “right ways” as you go to quilting classes, read blogs, and watch videos…but the bottom line is none of us are perfect.  In your stack of half-square triangles, one or two are going to be a little “off”.  The seam allowance isn’t going to be exactly perfect.  You’re going to cut something a little “off”.  No matter which experts’ advice we follow, we still aren’t going to make perfect pieces every time…so, the best-used tool in our quilting box is learning the art of fudging.

In every single quilt I’ve ever made, fudging has happened.  I often times have a block that is a little bit too narrow and I fudge it by making the seam allowance slightly smaller there.  It happens every single time I make a quilt.  I am often short of fabric and piece two pieces together in a sly sort of way, cut my unit, and piece it into the quilt.  Have you ever noticed that on any of my quilts…NOPE.  I fudge daily in my quilt-making…I highly recommend it.

Of course, I try my best to implement some of the techniques I’ve learned to make everything more accurate but the truth is, it sometimes just doesn’t work.  For me fudging works 95% of the time and on the few occasions it doesn’t, I rip it out.  No big deal.

Now back to the original question…”The quilt classes I have taken have all stressed not to iron, but to press. It looks like you are ironing. What don’t I understand?

There are three things:
#1.  What any teacher tells you is not gospel.  Even what I’m telling you now, please don’t take as gospel.  You do you.  You try the method the teacher recommends and then do what you feel is best.  The method a teacher might be telling you, might not jive with how you personally feel or what works for you.  Anything anyone says is not gospel…it is just an opinion.  You need to gather information, test it out, and find what works best for you.  Make your own opinion.

#2 I have listened to teachers.  I’ve thought about what they said and then in regards to ironing, I threw everything they said out the window.  I see no great difference in a quilt that is ironed or pressed or not ironed at all.  In the end, we all throw the quilts in the washing machine and then admire the wonderful crinkles.  Why did I worry about all the ironing and pressing if in the end, I was just going to admire crinkles?  After doing that a few times I decided ironing and pressing are something I’m just not going to care about.   If someone else wants to, great.

#3 Remember the tangent I went off on early in this post about learning to fudge?  By not pressing or ironing, I have a lot more “fudge room”.  If I don’t iron, I can give the fabric a little tug to get the seams to line up right.  Ironing and specifically pressing set the fabric.  The fabric loses its “give”.  It’s stiff and doesn’t flow.  If you’re a fudger like me, stiff unmoving pieces are the last thing you want.  So…I never use steam.  I have never put water in my iron.  If and when I do iron, I just run the iron over quickly and call it good.

I hope that long explanation helps you come to a decision on what’s right for you.

One last thing I want to point out.  You have likely seen beautiful antique quilts in your life.  These were made by great-grandmas and great-great-grandmas even great-great-great-grandmas.  These ladies didn’t have electricity.  They didn’t have sewing machines.  I highly doubt they jumped up, pulled the old sad irons down, heated up the entire house, and ironed a seam every time they got one hand stitched.  So why in modern times do I need to iron all the time?

Just food for thought…and please as I said, don’t take any of this as gospel.  You find what method works for you…there truly are many right ways.

24 thoughts on “Ask Jo: Many Right Ways”

  1. I am a presser. And like you, 95% fudger ;-) Perfect cutting and perfect sewing are not a part of my repertoire regardless of how careful I think I am being with both.

    Fudgers are the best!

  2. I love this. My sewing/cutting is not always perfect, so I’m a fudger too and 99% of the time, it works out great. I’m teaching my daughter the fine art of fudging as she learns to quilt. Thank you for discussing it. Hardly anyone does.

  3. There is great freedom in “You Do You!” It’s probably the best advice I ever got in regards to quilting. Thanks, Jo. Sometimes I press, sometimes I don’t. I agree with Jo, steam seems to set the fabric and you loose the ability to persuade that one naughty block into place. For a final press before assembling the layers I may give the top a very light spritz of water with 1/4 Best Press to keep the seams from flipping. I do keep a plastic bread wrapper holder thing by my sewing machine and use it to lightly “finger press” seams that need to cross…as in a 4-patch. The plastic thing saves my fingernails. That’s my “Me do Me.” What’s yours?

  4. This was an awesome blog post! Even though I am a regular presser, I totally agree with doing what works best for you. I’m picky, so pressing works best for me. However, it took me a while to learn “how” to press for MY best results. There are times I wait till the top is complete, and other times I press every seam. Quilting is supposed to be fun…not a book of rules to memorize. That takes away all the creativity. So, “here, here” for doing you!

    1. I love this post, I truly hate to iron! In my sewing group, I’m the only non-ironer. Fudging is the best. Thanks for this, now I don’t feel like a ironer outcast.

  5. I agree! I love your thought process too. 2 or 3 times I Laughed Out Loud while reading this post! I have been reading your blog since before Kramer was sick and posts like this are one of the reasons I am still reading. I totally agree with everything you said!

  6. I appreciated reading what everyone had to say. It was all so encouraging. And I agree 100% with the sentiment about the quilters of times past. It’s highly unlikely they were diehard seam pressers!

  7. I’m a fudger too:) Never been perfect, never will be. Every quilt I’ve ever made has been fudged a bit and that’s ok with me
    P. S I hate ironing and avoid it like the plague so I’m with you. Sometimes I’ll iron the finished blocks just because they look prettier nice and flat but sometimes I’m just lazy and don’t iron once during the entire process lol.

  8. Love it. Thank you for ‘splaining all this; surely is food for thought. But what will I do for exercise if I don’t lift that iron up and down? I always thought it qualified as weight lifting, you know? On the other hand, without frequent ironing, I could prolly make twice as many quilts, right? Ah, the freedom of an iron-free quilt room. All kidding aside, I do love your reasoning, and I have been following your example. Thanks, Jo!

  9. My very best friend has two daughters, each with two small children. They’re not sewers but neither even owns an iron and never has! Not sure quite how that works and neither does my friend! But of course we come from the generation where our mothers ironed absolutely everything. My Mum even ironed kitchen (drying up) towels, bathroom towels, dusters, socks and under pants. I don’t do that but I do iron everything else including bed sheets – my daughter doesn’t!

  10. Ironing is a passion of memories from childhood getting to iron my dads handkerchiefs and the dishtowels. So it carries into satisfaction when I sew, light starch included but thats me being me. Sew freeing. And no my daughter does not own an iron, what a new reality check. Lol

  11. Thanks for this! I’ve been a quilter for many years and a dressmaker even longer. There are so many “rules” out there that we’re meant to stick to but I don’t! I do iron my seams and I do use steam but that’s just the way I am. I also use polycottons in my quilts – if they’re the right type. Some work, some don’t so I’ve learned which ones work and use them. As you said about the “olden days” where they wouldn’t have ironed, they also used whatever fabric they had around. It didn’t have to be cotton as we’re continually told it must be. Anyway, thanks for telling us to do what we want. More people should do this and stop trying to tell us “you must do this”!

  12. And let’s face it, not every process works for every quilt, there are too many variables, just go with the flow; Great Post!

  13. Meylonie Schatz

    Hi Jo, I probably missed your post about the quilt you raffled of last week and how much the final bid for it was. It was surly a stunner and the firemen there are blessed that you support them. Is it against the rules for you to tell us how much the quilt sold for? I’ve been asked to sell a quilt or two in my time and value my work and don’t want to price it too low.

    I contacted the pattern designer and asked if she has a copy I could purchase. I would like to support her by purchasing directly from her if possible. She couldn’t find it then but if I don’t hear from her this week I’ll contact her again and if that fails I’ll resort to Ebay or another source like that. I hope my turns out as lovely as the auction on although I’m not very skilled with reproductions.

    How are the kids doing with all of their remodeling projects? Seems like Karl, Buck, and Kellisa are all living in messes with hopes of a gorgeous project in the future! And how did your last trip to Mayo turn out?
    Thanks for posting for all of us. You sure do feel like an old friend!

  14. Jo,
    You nailed it!! Every stitcher needs to find the techniques and style that works for them! I don’t press until the quilt top is finished. Found that finger pressing give that flexibility that you talk about. Quilting is a journey and thank goodness that the “Quilt Police” aren’t on watch :)

  15. What a terrific post!! It’s so refreshing to hear someone tell it like it is. Once again, it’s not about having perfect blocks and perfect quilts. It’s about having fun, being creative and enjoying the experience. I think too many rules takes away all the joy. We can all be ourselves, make things doing it our own ways and have fun doing it.

  16. I too fudge, no matter how hard I try when cutting my pieces it seems something is off. Maybe it’s the mat?
    I have found you can fudge in most forms of needlework. Hardanger is the exception!
    I press as I go, not 100% sure why, probably because it’s expected. I may have to go the non pressing route.
    I recently read a blog post (not Jo’s) the quilt police are still alive and DICTATING.

  17. yesterday was an adventure in “fudging”, and i wasn’t feeling very good about it. a bit defeated and just wanted the quilt top done!!
    today, gotta say it… after reading your post, im feeling proud of myself for persevering, fudging, and making do.
    a good reminder that we all are unique, and okay.

  18. Great advice! Doesn’t every artist find the process that works best for them to create the outcome they want? I adore your quilts and wouldn’t change a thing about your process!

    Thanks for quieting that tiny quilt police person that may be lurking inside us! And thank you for explaining the “why” behind your choices.

  19. Love this, Jo! Perfectly stated and my process exactly! Comes with having a few years of quilt making “under my belt” though!

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