20 Essential Pressing Tips- the BIG secret of perfect sewing

How to Press perfectly for the best professional look in your sewing

Earlier I had  thought that pressing and ironing are same. I used to use the words interchangeably.
But I couldn’t be more wrong.

pressing tips for sewing

If you have done some sewing you do not have to be told about the importance of an iron box in sewing. But maybe you  are like me. I used to religiously use the iron box in every step of sewing – but did it all wrong and used to wonder  why when the end result was always wonky and ugly. Since then I have learned the difference between ironing and pressing.

Pressing and Ironing both involves a hot iron on an ironing table . That is all. Pressing refers to moving the iron up and down on the cloth, lowering and lifting alternatively. This is  different from the to and fro motion of ironing which results in stretching the fabric.

The pressure applied by the up and down motion of the iron on the cloths has many advantages. Ironing may result  in stretching and getting the fabric out of shape. Just imagine your neckline stretched out of shape because of wrong use of iron box.No one wants that.

Since learning the importance of pressing and the use of iron I think I have spend as much time pressing as I have spend on the sewing machine. Pressing is ABSOLUTELY critical to achieve beautifully finished garments. 

Pressing wrongly can also mar the look of your fabric. Sometimes a glossy look, completely unwanted, appears on the surface of the cloth as a result of wrong pressing.

What are the tools you need for pressing

  • Iron – A steam iron is ideal.
  • Ironing board and cover – a nicely padded up ironing board; Even a mini ironing board near your sewing area will serve the purpose.
  • Pressing clothes – this is a piece of cloth used between the iron box and the garment.This one prevents scorching your precious fabric, as well as protects your fabric from the residue in the iron box plate. (check point 15 for more details). 
  • Padded ham – used to keep the curved seams when pressing.

Some optional tools like Point presser (made of wood and used to press flat seam allowances) seam stick (to press seams open) Clappers ( made of wood to beat a seam allowance flat)Sleeve board and seam rolls ( Works like a free arm in your sewing machine; used to slip narrow openings to press the seams easily) and iron plate sleeve  also make your pressing go smooth and easy.

correct way to press

There are some important points to consider when pressing. 


Never compromise on pressing. Do not wait till the whole garment is stitched before touching the iron.
Follow the pattern instructions and press every seam.It is better that you have your ironing table near your sewing machine.


Organise pressing so that you have a number of seams to press at once to save time.


Usually you press on the wrong side of the garment. If you are pressing on the right side, use a pressing cloth. 
Some delicate fabrics even need thick turkey cloth as pressing cloth to prevent damage.


Consider the fabric type and texture of the fabric before starting to use the iron. The finish and embellishments also should be  considered. The temperature setting indicator on your iron box can be your  guide in selecting the right temperature.


I always prewash and press my fabric before even taking out to mark the pattern. A wrinkled cloth will result in wrong pattern markings. Just a moderate pressing with a warm iron is all you need to get the wrinkles out. You will also be able to cut accurately if you have a smooth fabric.


Before pressing on the right side of the cloth, if you have to or areas like collars, I always test pressing on a scarp of the same fabric. You cannot be too careful with a hot iron.


Use dampened pressing cloth when pressing natural weave cloth like cotton and linen or heavy cloth. You will have an easy time removing the wrinkles. Light steam also works the same way.

But do not use steam on delicate sheer fabric. Use a dry iron only. Steam also should not be used on crinkled fabric like heavy crepe and ribbed clothes.Never use steam to press. The steam will destroy the look of the fabric.


A dampened pressing cloth can help in manipulating fabric better in areas like armholes with curved seams and hems. But this also has to be tested with a scrap fabric piece first.


Fabric with a pile like velvet, suede etc and fur cannot be touched with an iron unless you want to destroy them. They should be steamed instead of pressed. For fabric like these a pressing cloth is a necessity. Never ever use the iron directly onto these clothes if you do not want to destroy them. Use steam instead of pressing to make these type of clothes pliable.

To steam you have to hold the steam iron 1 inch above the cloth and let the steam do the work of ironing out the wrinkles. Let dry the cloth naturally.

To iron on the wrong side of these fabric, lay them right side down on a soft fabric and steam press very lightly. You can brush the right side of these fabric with a soft fabric brush.


A small pressing cushion ( seam roll) helps greatly when pressing curved seams like the sleevehead. Make one yourself or buy one – you may need one sooner than you imagine.


Do not forget to trim the seam allowances and or clip them before pressing. You may also need to grade the excess seam allowances.


Do not forget to take off pins before you start to press. Pins can damage your iron. Also it mars the fabric.


How to press seam lines – Before pressing a seam open or to the sides as the pattern necessitates, you have to press the stitching line. This pressing sets the stitching line properly. This is a very necessary step. The advantage of pressing the seam open is that the seam line seems to disappear with the pressing. Who wants an obvious seam line.
We usually press the seams open. But sometimes you have to press them to one side.For eg the seam allowance of a facing is pressed to one side to be under stitched.
When pressing the seam allowance to one side it is better if the seam allowance is graded. ie one seam allowance is trimmed to half that of the other seam allowance.


List of fabrics which should only be pressed on the wrong side

  • Dark coloured cotton fabric 
  • Embroidered, embellished fabric
  • Pieced or quilted fabric


Use a pressing cloth every time your iron box touches the right side of your fabric.

Selecting Pressing clothes for pressing depends on the cloth you are pressing. The weight of the pressing cloth should be in proportion to the garment fabric. A cloth with pile needs a turkey like fabric as pressing cloth to protect its surface. 

I always keep a number of square pressing clothes in the sizes of  10″ – 20″.  A wool pressing cloth for pressing wool, a turkey one for delicate fabrics and napped ones, and cotton muslin and a thick cotton fabric for general pressing are essentials.  Instead of turkey cloth you can use cotton flannel also. 

A muslin is the best pressing cloth when pressing interfacing. You can use two layers; one under the garment and the other one between the iron box and the fabric. This will protect your ironing board cover as well.

Use silk organza as pressing cloth where you need to see what is happening underneath. But be aware that this cloth can burn easily.

Do not forget to finish the edges of these clothes with zigzag/ overlock stitches or even pinking. Or else you will have a reveling mess in your hands. Also ensure that the pressing cloth is UNBLEACHED for obvious reasons.

Use only clean pressing clothes. Wash as soon as they become dirty. 


How to press enclosed seams – Enclosed seams are seen in collars, facings, plackets etc They should be first graded ie one seam allowance trimmed to half the size of the other. Then they should be first pressed open, then pressed together to the side.


How to press pleats or tucks. – Pressing is necessary to correctly join the pleats to the main garment.


How to press darts – It looks good if very wide dart folds on the wrong side is trimmed to 1/4 inch and pressed open.Professionals press the darts with a seam roll or pressing cushion. if it is a narrow dart press it to one side. Upper bodice darts like near the bust line are pressed to the outside.


Finger pressing – There are times when you do not necessarily need to press with an iron. Small seams and hems can be pressed with your fingers. Finger pressing can also be used prior to iron pressing for better manipulation.


You have to keep your iron box in  tip top condition for good pressing. Make sure that water ishow to press before you sew replaced regularly. Also clean your ironing plate from any residue from ironing interfacing cloth. Ensure the steam holes are not clogged from the goop from lint. 

You can use an iron box sleeve to protect the iron plate. A teflon one is also used as a protective layer against the residue

Make sure your ironing board cover is clean and spot free. You can easily make an ironing board cover with things you have at home following the tutorial here.

diy ironingtable cover

Related posts : How to iron clothes properly ; More sewing tips and techniques.



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