These pressing tips are written by Philippa Bray, a dressmaker with over 50 years sewing experience.
Pressing v Ironing
The iron is an essential sewing tool as important as your sewing machine. Ideally when planning your craft room layout you want to make a dedicated space for your ironing board where you can leave it up ready to use. Otherwise make sure you set it up at the start of every project.
Well pressed fabric makes the end product look much more professional. It’s worth having a good hot steam iron, it will really make a difference. It is also worth stopping to press every seam before you sew the next as you can’t go back and press a seam once you’ve sewn across it.
Ironing = This is applying the iron to your fabric and rubbing it across the fabric to take out any creases. It’s useful to iron your fabric before cutting to make sure the grain is straight plus it makes it easier to cut accurately. The exception to this is jersey fabric as it can stretch it out of shape.
Pressing = This is when you hold the iron in one place on or over the fabric without rubbing it from side to side. You can either use steam on the iron, or a damp cloth between the iron and fabric to create steam.
You would iron at the start of a project to prepare your fabric. During sewing only press, not iron as it could drag the fabric and distort seams.
- If you are in any doubt as to how your fabric will react to the heat of the iron use a cloth such as an old tea towel, or a specific pressing cloth between the iron and the material. Alternatively you can test the fabric’s reaction to the iron using an offcut or a corner.
- When possible you want to press your fabric from the back not the front. If you do have to press on the right side of the fabric ideally you want to use a cloth to protect your fabric. Over pressing without using a cloth can lead to shine on the right side of your fabric, black fabrics are especially prone to this.
- Only press fabrics with a nap like corduroy or velvet on the reverse.
- For more delicate fabrics like silk or lightweight synthetics use a cooler iron setting so you don’t risk melting or scorching your fabrics.
- Pressing hems before stitching them holds them into place making them much easier to sew. Pressing seams open or to one side beds the stitching into the fibres of your fabric and makes your seam nice and flat.
- When pressing sleeves, or small difficult to reach areas use the pointed end of the ironing board, or a sleeve board if you have one. Alternatively you can use sleeve rolls or hams which are hard padded shapes that fit into difficult corners giving you something to press against. Here’s a tutorial for making your own.
- When pressing make sure you are only pressing a single layer of your garment at a time so you don’t end up pressing creases into the layer below.
- Never press over pins, zips or buttons as this will leave a dent or mark in your fabric.
- Ensure that you keep the sole plate of your iron clean so you don’t transfer marks onto your fabric. There are some methods for cleaning your iron here.
- Don’t press gathers as it flattens them too much.
- You can ease out small puckers on seams, hems or darts when pressing with a steam iron, improving the final look of your project.