She has many names: nesting seams, spinning seams, twirling seams, swirling seams, fanning seams, spiral seams, popping seams… When you hear these terms, the person speaking (if they are talking about quilting) is likely referring to the technique of pressing seams in alternating directions so anytime you have 2 straight seams making a perpendicular intersection, all 4 seams end up going in the same clockwise or counter-clockwise direction around the intersection point. Then opening up the intersection and pressing the seams down so each one is folded back on itself. When done correctly, there should be no more than 2 layers of fabric in any one spot.
I like to use the term ‘Nesting.’ Sometimes, when I need to be more clear, I will refer to lining up the seams as ‘Nesting’ and opening up the seams as ‘Spinning.
When to Nest Seams
This technique is best used anytime you have 2 straight seams intersecting to make four 90º angles. Like pressing seams open, nesting seams has the benefit of reducing seam bulk. Unlike pressing seams open, nesting seams has the ability to give the more wiggle room when matching seams – this can be the difference between points being perfect and points being almost perfect.
This technique might take some practice to master. I made several quilts with some nested seams, a few open seams and more smushed seams before I got it figured out and found my rhythm.
Quilts DO NOT need to have perfect points to be beautiful or to be loved or to win a ribbon. There is no such thing as a ‘wrong way’ to quilt, there are only different techniques and processes that yield different results. Do what feels right to you!
How to Nest and Spin a Seam
Using 4 squares, I’m going to walk you through the basic steps I take when nesting and spinning my seams.
To start, I sew the squares into pairs using a contrasting red thread and a standard 1/4″ seam allowance.
To nest the seams, I first use my finger to press the seams in opposite directions. You can see the peach and blue squares have their seams going to the left and the black and tan squares have their seams going to the right.
For the second seam, I am again using a 1/4″ seam but am now using white thread so it is easier to see how the white seam has ‘locked in’ the red seams.
Next, I open the squares and lay them down with the seamside facing up. The first 2 ‘red seams’ are secured by the white stitches so they lay down in opposite directions. The ‘white seam’ will be sticking up.
I gently tug the seams apart at the intersection point to get the ends of the red threads, the ones that were locked in by the white stitches, to come undone.
Depending on how short the stitches are, I will use my small scissors or a seam ripper to help these guys out. I usually wait until I’ve got a few sections put together and will sit down to spin all of the seams in batches.
With the red threads out of the way, the seams lie nice and flat, counter-clockwise around the intersection point. Scroll to the end to see an example of how nested seams alternate on a grid layout.
I press with the steam iron on the seamside first to make sure the seams are all in the right direction. Then I’ll flip it over to the front and press again, admiring the perfect points.
Example of Nested Seams
Here is an example of nested seams from one of the Fort Snozzberry blocks.