Pressing:  The Inside Secret to Successful Sewing

Pressing as you sew is as important as the stitches you put in the fabric.  A garment will simply not look or fit right if you wait until it is completely put together to press it; in fact, it probably won’t go together very well at all unless you press as you sew.  Refresh your pressing knowledge by reviewing these tips:

  • Use a pressing cloth, so you won’t risk scorching the fabric or flattening the texture. Use a wool pressing cloth on wool fabrics, and cotton, muslin, or cheesecloth on other fabrics.  A small piece of white silk organza or cotton muslin is a great option too since you can see through it to the fabric you are pressing. 

  • Use only the weight of the iron and a press-and-lift motion; over-pressing flattens the fabric and gives it a hard, brittle look. And don’t slide the iron back and forth.  This can stretch or distort the fabric grain.
  • Vary the heat and pressure depending on the fabric; lightweight fabrics require a light touch and low heat.  Cotton and linen can take higher heat, but rayon and synthetic fabrics can scorch or melt with high heat.  It’s always wise to experiment with different heat and steam settings on swatches of your fabric before pressing garments components. 
  • If your fabric is wrinkled or creased from being stored or washed, gently press it before you cut out the pattern.
  • Don’t press over pins! Remove them or baste the seam first.  Use silk thread for basting, because you can press over it and it won’t leave an imprint.
  • Press on the wrong side of the garment whenever you can; if you must press on the right side, always use a pressing cloth.  This will prevent having an imprint of the iron.
  • Press in the direction of the fabric grain whenever you can, so you won’t distort the way the fabric drapes. On a bias garment, this means that the iron will be at a right angle to the seam you’re pressing.
  • Press the seamline flat first, to set the stitches in the fabric; then press seam open. When a seam is to be pressed to one side, press it open first; this provides a more sharply defined edge than just pressing both seam allowances to one side.  Always press a stitched seam as directed, before stitching across it with another seam.

Iron pressing a seam of white muslin flat. Press seam flat first.

Iron pressing seam open on a small piece of muslin.
Then press seam open.

  • Clip/notch curved seams before pressing open. Stagger the clips in the seam allowances so you won’t weaken the fabric.  Use the point of the iron to press curved seams, so you won’t flatten the curve or create puckers in the fabric.
  • Press heavily textured or embellished fabrics on a fluffy towel or heavily padded surface or a needle board, so you won’t flatten the texture. When pressing velvet or other pile fabrics, place fabric right side down on a needle board or piece of self-fabric.
  • To keep the seam allowance edges from leaving an imprint on the right side of the garment, you can place strips of paper (cut from grocery bags or brown wrapping paper) under each seam allowance before pressing the seam open. Or, press the seam open over a narrow seam roll or curved piece of wood molding, so the weight of the iron doesn’t come in contact with the edges of the seam allowance.

Iron pressing a small piece of muslin with white paper under each seam allowance.

  • Use a tailor’s clapper or a brick wrapped in fabric to flatten pressed-open seams after steaming them well, and to sharpen the pressed edges of collars, lapels, belt carriers, and pockets. This is really helpful for heavy or thick fabrics.
  • Set a chair or small table next to the ironing board to support large garments or extra fabric so they don’t hang off the ironing surface, because this can stretch or distort the fabric.