Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Nesting Seams and Spinning Seams

In preparing for Week 4 of the Two Colour Mystery quilt-along (clue will be released March 21) I found that nesting seams when sewing, and spinning seams when pressing, helped units look better.  In case you're not familiar with one or either of these techniques, read on.

Sample seam intersection - NOT a unit from the mystery quilt!

Nesting Seams

Nesting seams helps match seam lines that need to meet in the final unit.  It's just tucking the seam on one part right up to the seam on the other part when sewing the parts together.  It helps line up seam intersections. It also helps reduce bulk in the seam allowance by distributing the fabric in the seam allowances of the two previous seams on two sides of the new seam.  This only works if those two seams are pressed in opposite directions.

I'll use a 4-patch to illustrate.  If you're here from the Mystery Quiltalong, please note this is not a unit from that quilt.

Here is the start of the 4-patch.  I've already sewn two squares together.

Here's a view of the wrong side to show you the seams pressed in opposite directions.

When I put these two units wrong sides together, I offset them a little then slide the top unit down until I can feel the bump of the top seam fall right next to the bump of the bottom seam.  

Here's what it look like from the side.  The white arrow points to where the seam ridges or bumps kiss.

When possible, I prefer to place the pieces under the needle in such a way that I stitch over the top seam allowance first.  I do this for two reason.  First, the seam allowance on the bottom unit will be folded away from the feed dogs and will be less likely to get caught on them and get flipped. Second, the feed dogs will pull the lower unit, keeping its seam nestled up close to the seam on the top unit..

Here's a diagram of the units seam from the side (I know the colors don't match the fabrics in my example.  I just chose colors that would show up clearly in the graphic.)

Once the units are sewn together, the seams should line up perfectly.

But wait!  To which side did I press the seam?  Both.  Read on to see how I spin the seams.

Spinning Seam Allowances (Spinning seams)

When several seams intersect, pressing to one side can lead to a very bulky spot.

Pressing seams open can alleviate that, but I'm not a fan of pressing open if I can help it.  Pressing open eliminates the possibility of stitching in the ditch later.

Spinning seam allowances is my preferred way to distribute bulk in seam allowances.  It's not always possible, but I always try that first.

As you can see below, I could press the two halves of the new seam of my 4-patch in two different directions.  Think of it as sweeping or spinning all the seam allowances in a circular direction.  In this case it's clockwise (as seen from the back), but if the seams in my original units had been pressed towards the light instead, I would simply spin things counterclockwise instead.

Placing my fingers on the seam allowance so that each half is flattened in the direction I want it to be, I slide my fingers to the intersection, tucking my fingers into the fabric folds, and push each half of the seam allowance until the stitches in the middle pop and let the seam allowance lay flat, in a different direction in each half of the seam. 

Sometimes those stiches may need the assistance of a seam ripper to let go, but they are inside the seam allowance, and the last seam I sewed secured the rest of the seams those popped stitches belonged to, so nothing is going to fall apart.

I press that pretty little patch at the intersection, and flip over the 4-patch to press with an iron.  You might like to finger press those folds to make sure they don't flip the into the wrong direction before you get the iron on them.

I made a short video.  Maybe this will make the process more clear.  (If you're reading this directly from your email inbox, you may need to click through to view this post in your browser to see the video.  I'm not 100% sure how all the technology pieces work together!)

I'm rather excited that I just filmed and edited my first video tutorial, so I hope you found it helpful!  Please let me know in the comments.

I'm also curious about pressing habits.  Do you press to one side or open, and why? Nest seams or not?  There's no right or wrong, just what works for each individual quiltmaker, so share what you do so we can all build our toolbox of techniques.

Happy quilting,

If you're curious about the fabrics I used in the tutorial:  light is Crackle - Snow and dark is Stonehenge Gradations - Peacock, both from Northcott Fabric. Thank you to Northcott Fabrics for sending me the fabric.


  1. Great first video! Thank you. I press my seams to the dark side usually, only pressing open when using templates on weird angles that make pressing to one side difficult. I will now try to spin my seams as per your instructions. Thanks again. Corinne

  2. Nice tutorial! I've done this before but it was good to have a refresher. Great job on your first video tutorial! ~Jeanne

  3. Great video. Good to the process in action. Thanks.

  4. Congrats on your first video! I have used this method in the past but it's always good to have a reminder. Thank you for doing this.

  5. great photos and pics

  6. Thanks for the info and video!! I have to ask about the beautiful quilt behind you. Is there a pattern?? Thanks

    1. Thank you! The snowflake blocks are all 26 snowflakes from my Snowflake Blocks Complete Set" pattern. The setting is a free pattern you can sign up for here:


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