How to Press Like a Pro

Hey, you!

Like I said in the article An Ultimate Guide to Pressing Tools

If you sew, you MUST press. Sewing and pressing go together like Spock & Kirk, bread & butter, Batman & Robin. In other words, they complement each other perfectly.

Personally, I find pressing therapeutic. I love to press. It gives me a sense of accomplishment. And I find a precise and perfectly pressed seam a humongous turn on. But then, I’m weird like that.

In this article, you will learn the difference between ironing and pressing; how to press a straight seam; how to batch press; and how to remove stubborn creases…

Power sewers press. And you plan on being a power sewer, right?!

So if you’re ready, let’s press on…

NOTE: If you’re ready to begin this journey and would like to buy my recommended tools and supplies, please click HERE!

Your Iron Multi-Tasks

shark professional iron on a gorgeous multi-coloured length of fabric

Your iron works hard for you. There are three ways that you can use your iron:

  • to iron (a sliding or gliding motion) to remove wrinkles and creases;
  • to press (an up-reposition-down) to flatten seams, set permanent creases, and apply fusible interfacing and stabilizers; and
  • to mold and shape fabric with a shot of steam or a trusty spray bottle

Rules of Pressing

Rule #1: Press as you sew. A well-made garment is one that has been carefully pressed at each step of the construction process.

Your sewing machine + iron + ironing board are best friends forever (BFF).

Rule #2: Choose the right temperature appropriate for the fiber content of your fashion fabric. Choosing the wrong temperature can lead to what I call the uglies: discoloration, shine, and textural changes in your fabric. You don’t want any of that ugly nonsense!

Rule #3: Use steam or your trusty spray bottle when pressing. A perfectly pressed seam usually needs a little water.

Rule #4: Do NOT over press! You want to apply just enough pressure but not too much. Because too much pressing or pressure can lead to scorch, shine, and imprinting seams and dart legs on the right side (RS) of your garment. When in doubt, under press, rather than over press.

Rule #5: It is a good idea to press on the wrong side (WS) whenever possible. And if you must press on the RS, ALWAYS use a press cloth.

Rule #6: When pressing knits, press lightly to avoid distortion! Do. Not. Over. Press. Knits.

Now that you know the rules, let’s get down to the actual business of how you press…

The Difference Between Ironing & Pressing

First, we need to talk about the difference between ironing and pressing.

Ironing is what you’ve done (or avoided) all of your life up until now. When you iron, you use a gliding back-and-forth motion to remove wrinkles and creases from a garment.

But a power sewer does not iron during the construction phase of a garment! Because ironing during the construction phase can lead to fabric distortion!

So what is pressing?!

Pressing is an overlapping, up-and-down motion plus the application of just the right amount pressure. With pressing, you don’t want to leave your iron in one spot for more than 10 seconds.

And if you’ve followed my advice HERE, you’re a sewist who owns the heaviest iron you could find. Because you know that you won’t have to use muscle to apply pressure; the weight of a heavy iron will do most of the work for you!

How to Setup Your Ironing Board by Your Sewing Machine

Ideally, the best setup will allow you to place your ironing board perpendicular to your sewing machine. And then, adjust it to an appropriate height so you can sew, turn, and press without constantly having to get up and down.

Because getting up and down is exhausting and can, ultimately, result in a failure to press all seams during construction.

How to Press a Seam

Pressing is easy as eating an entire bar of Lindt Dark Chocolate & Caramel with a Touch of Sea Salt in one go. Yum!

press seams with the nose of your iron

Okay, then. Let me put my chocolate bar aside and teach you how to press…

In a newly constructed seam, here’s what you do:

  1. First, set your iron to DRY setting.
  2. Then, select the appropriate temperature for your fabric. This is important! Because if you’re sewing polyester, for example, and you choose a cotton setting. Watch out for scorched, melted fabric!
  3. Next, cover the area to be pressed with your pressing cloth to prevent scorching and shine. Spritz area to be pressed with a spray bottle filled with plain water.
  4. Now use just the tip or nose of your iron and press the seam as sewn on the wrong side; press in the same direction that you stitched the seam or stitching line. Do this on both sides of the seamline.

Using just the nose of iron will prevent ugly imprints on the right side of your garment.

  1. Next, press the seam open or to one side still using just the nose of your iron.
  2. Then, turn the garment to its right side and using just the nose of your iron press the seam line.
  3. Finally, allow your pressed seam to cool completely. This is especially important when pressing darts and curved seams as it helps to preserve the pressed shape.

To avoid the dreaded homemade look, NEVER sew across a seam that has not been pressed!

Now, how simple was that?!

Pro tip #1: If you decide to use the steam feature on your iron, keep this fact in mind: The soleplate temperature must be really hot for steam to form! Otherwise, you will end up with a hot drippy mess on your ironing board cover and your fabric. UGH!

You need moisture to scuplt fabric. And my favorite way is with a dry iron, a spray bottle filled with plain water, and a press cloth. This way I avoid mineral build up in my iron and fugly water spots on my fabric; plus, I have maximum control of exactly how much moisture I want to apply.

Pro tip #2: Misting and pressing is also an excellent technique for those of you whose iron doesn’t produce enough steam.

How to Press Different Construction Details

A garment is comprised of straight lines and curves. And this means that each has its own pressing requirements:

  • Press straight seams on the handle of a wooden spoon or a seam roll. This way you avoid making an ugly impression on the right side of your garment.
  • Press darts and other curves seams, such as armholes and crotch, on a tailor’s ham; remember to use just the tip or nose your iron. Click HERE to learn how to press darts.

tailor's ham and wooden spoon

Mmm, Can You Really Set Stitches?

At some point in your life as a sewist, you will read that before you press a seam open or to one side, you must first “set the stitches.” That is, press the seam as sewn before pressing it open or to the one side. This has something do with “melding the stitches into the fabric.”

Honestly, I don’t know if this argument has any merit.

And I’ve decided I don’t care.

I just like pressing my seams as sewn on the wrong sides; then open or to one side; and, finally, pressing the seam line from the right side.

Seriously, how many extra seconds does it take to press a seam as sewn?! Let me answer that for you: a lot less than it takes to argue or ponder the point.

How to Batch Press

If your sewing setup does not allow for your ironing board to be positioned perpendicular to your sewing machine at the height of your sewing table surface, pressing can become a chore!

unprofessional unpressed seam

Getting up and down after you’ve sewn each seam will be frustrating and exhausting!

But I think I have a solution…

Organize your sewing so you can press multiple seams at one time. And here’s how you do it…

  1. Sew your bust or waist darts.
  2. Then, stitch your shoulder seams.
  3. Now you can go to the ironing board and press your darts and shoulder seams.

This works because none of these seams cross another seam. Check out that image above and imagine what a hot, homemade mess you would have if you sew two unpressed seams together!

  1. Finally, stitch your side seams and press.

Alright. It’s time to boss around stubborn creases…

How to Handle Stubborn Creases

Sometimes, no matter how much you iron, it can be stupid difficult to remove wrinkles and crease lines.

bottle of white distilled vinegar

But there’s a solution…

Use a solution of 1:1 (50-50) ratio of plain water to distilled white vinegar to remove stubborn creases and wrinkles.

And if the crease still refuses to get out of town, try saturating it with undiluted distilled white vinegar and iron.

And don’t forget to use your press cloth!

The End

Bottom line:

If you want a garment that looks like it was made by a professional, you MUST press!

And in this article, you have learned the difference between ironing and pressing; how to press a straight seam; how to batch press; and how to remove stubborn creases.

With this knowledge, you’re now ready to go forth and press like a Zen mistress!

And remember…

Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!

RELATED: Click HERE to get the 411 on the essential pressing tools every sewist must have!

RELATED: Click HERE to learn the basic sewing skills you need to sew insanely gorgeous clothes!

RELATED: Click HERE if you’re ready to begin this journey and would like to buy my recommended tools and supplies!

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