Exception to venerable rule uses modern techniques
If every rule has its exception, as the English proverb says, then this is one exception you’ll want to consider.
Rather than pressing quarter-inch seams to one side or the other after stitching — a rule that most of us have adhered to since our earliest quilting lessons — press those seams open, particularly when sewing batik fabrics.
That’s the recommendation of quilt designer, author and instructor Brenda Henning of Anchorage, Alaska. She’ll be teaching and lecturing in Grand Junction this week.
It’s a radical idea. For me, it’s a deviation from pressing all seams toward the darker fabric to prevent the dark seam from showing through the lighter cloth, as well as allowing seams pressed in opposite directions to “nest” together for a perfect match on the quilt top.
But Henning backs up her rule-breaking advice with legitimate reasons, so I’m rethinking my process.
She says pressing seams open eliminates the arc that tends to form in strip sets when seams are pressed to one side. Henning presses first with her finger, running her nail close to the seam line.
“My piecing is much more accurate,” she says of her technique. “There is no accordion pleat of fabric” from an iron but a truly flat seam, which gives her square blocks that are not distorted.
The original method of pressing both seams to one side was important years ago, when quilts were hand-pieced and cotton batting produced a lot of lint. With today’s bonded battings that don’t migrate and strong seams sewn on modern machines, as well as more dense overall quilting, that old rule doesn’t “hold water any longer,” she says.
Henning explains that the finer weave of batiks responds better to finger pressing, but she uses the open-seam method with standard printed fabrics as well. Batiks are fabrics that are hand-dyed with wax resist. Henning began working with batiks about 10 years ago, specifically those made on the Indonesian island of Bali.
Now, she is writing her 10th book in a series titled “Strip Therapy with Bali Fabrics.” The precut 2 1/2-inch strip sets are marketed as Hoffman Bali Pops in different color combos.
Producing 12–24 quilts each year, Henning sends them to a longarm quilter to be finished. Traveling, teaching and operating her Bear Paw Productions business otherwise occupy a big chunk of her time.
In addition to Henning’s lecture “The Nuts and Bolts of Fabrics” scheduled Saturday at the Clarion Inn, she’ll teach an Aug. 26 workshop on “Impressionist Stained Glass.”
Again, she adapts a contemporary technique to simplify a once-laborious process. The secret ingredient is fusible bias tape. After layering the project with batting and backing, Henning stitches the tape along each edge, thereby “quilting” the fabric art at the same time.
The requisite hand work of years past — basting, making your own bias tape, appliquéing and quilting — now is a time waster for many of us, as distasteful as watching our ice cream melt in the summer heat.
Henning learned many years ago “that I am a fairly impatient person,” she says. Besides, hand sewing takes too long when she is working on one of her many deadlines.
Luckily, her impatience appears to be paying off in new and exciting quilt designs and techniques that the rest of us are eager to adopt.