The Importance of Pressing

“It’s a waste of time. I’ll just iron it when I’m done.”

The first time I heard someone say this I audibly gasped, horrified that anyone would put off pressing. But the mm-hmming  of those around me made me realize that it was a common sentiment.

As a long-time garment sewist, the need to press as-you-go has been drilled into me, but many quilters and new garment sewists don’t realize  the difference it can make in the final outcome.

Because I can be a bit fanatical (I prefer devout) about this aspect of sewing and quilting, Sam Hunter of Hunter’s Design Studio invited me to share my experience and tips in her Back to School Blog Hop. If you haven’t checked out Cheryl’s post about the quilter’s knot or Peta’s post about diagonal quilt backs, go check them out. And make sure to follow along with the rest of these talented quilters and sewists:

Sept 4: Cath Hall of Wombat Quilts
Sept 5: Sam Hunter of Hunter’s Design Studio
Sept 6: Melanie McNeil of Catbird Quilt Studio
Sept 7: Mandy Leins of Mandalei Quilts 
Sept 8: Rose Hughes of Rose Hughes
Sept 9: Megan Dougherty of The Bitchy Stitcher
Sept 10: Lynn Krawczyk of Smudged Design Studio
Sept 11: Susan Beal of West Coast Crafty
Sept 12: Sarah Lawson of Sew Sweetness
Sept 13: Jane Victoria of Jolly and Delilah
Sept 14: Jemelia Hilfiger of Je’s Bend
Sept 15: Ebony Love of LoveBug Studios
Sept 16: Misty Cole of Daily Design Wall
Sept 17: Kim Lapacek of Persimon Dreams
Sept 18: Christina Cameli of A Few Scraps
Sept 19: Bill Volckening of WonkyWorld
Sept 20: Jessica Darling of Jessica Darling
Sept 21: Debbie Kleve Birkebile of Mountain Trail Quilt Treasures
Sept 22: Heather Kinion of Heather K is a Quilter
Sept 23: Michelle Freedman of Design Camp PDX
Sept 24: Kathy Mathews of Chicago Now Quilting Sewing Creation
Sept 25: Jane Shallala Davidson of Quilt Jane
Sept 27: Cristy Fincher of Purple Daisies Quilting
Sept 28: Catherine Redford of Catherine Redford
Sept 29: Amalia Teresa Parra Morusiewicz of Fun From A to Z
Sept 30: Victoria Findlay Wolfe of Victoria Findlay Wolfe Quilts
October 1: Tracy Mooney of 3LittleBrds
October 2: Trish Frankland, guest posting on Persimon Dreams
October 3: Flaun Cline of I Plead Quilty

So, without further ado, here are my thoughts on pressing for both quilters and sewists:

Why It Matters

Pressing makes your quilt block come together more accurately, without puckering or pleating. It makes your garments look handmade (rather than homemade). It helps pattern pieces fit together as expected and gives a look of professionalism to everything you make, whether it’s a jacket, a mini quilt, a handbag or bed-sized quilt.

My Favorite Tools 

Though you really only have to have an iron and an ironing board, there are some great tools out there that make your pressing more effective and easier.

Rowenta_Pro_Master_IronagqDetailI have two irons: a Rowento Pro-Master Iron and a Black-and-Decker Quick-n-Easy Steam Iron. The first goes for about a hundred bucks, the second for about $25. Guess which one I use more? The B&D gets hotter and is easier to clean, so I only pull the Pro iron out when I need to do some good steaming (when I’m working with wool, for example). Some people love the Oliso irons that pop up when placed on the ironing board and for people with wrist issues, this is a good choice.

Ironing board
I sew in my bedroom, so I don’t have as large of a pressing surface as I’d like, but I do have the wider board and suggest you do the same. Those extra few inches are great! Other that that, any ironing board will do. Just make sure you wash your cover fairly regularly and replace it once a year. I just buy a new cover because the cost of recovering it with quilting cotton and the time it takes to make the cover just aren’t worth the novelty to me, but to each her own.

Spray Bottle w/ Water 
I’ve found that giving my fabrics a light spray, letting it sit for a few seconds and then pressing removes stubborn wrinkles far better than bit of steaming. Why? I’m not sure, but it works well.

Niagara Non Aerosol Spray StarchSpray Starch or Starch Alternative I learned to love spray starch when I started sewing for Luke. He loves to throw together random substrates of fabrics and it didn’t take long for me to figure out that spray starch makes sewing chiffon to canvas actually doable. When working with slippery, soft fabrics, spray starch can keep you sane. It gives body to otherwise flimsy fabrics and washes right out. Soak’s Flatter and Mary Ellen’s Best Press are both great alternatives, but I stick with Niagara Non-Aerosol Spray Starch for most projects (both quilting and garments).

Press Cloth 
I love a good press cloth for final presses and often use them when I’m dealing with wool or silk. I use 12″ x 12″ squares of muslin for mine rather than buying them.  One of the great things about press cloths is that if your iron is a little dirty, that will transfer to the cloth instead of your project. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of finding dirty bits at the seam joints only after a quilt top has been sewn together and that was enough to remind me how important a clean iron and a  press cloth can be.

Tailor’s Ham
tailor's hamFor garment sewists, this should be your new best friend. Using a tailor’s ham makes all the difference in getting a nice crisp finish on bust darts, booty darts, sleeve heads, hoods, and any other curved spot you are trying to press. The ham lets your fabric fold around it and keeps from getting any of those tell-tale puckers and misplaced pressing marks that are evidence of trying to press curves on a flat surface. Treat yo’ self and get one.

clapperThis little wooden tool looks so simple, but boy, oh boy, does it come in handy! One trick to getting nice, flat seams is to press and let it cool while being held in that position. This can be pretty tricky and hot on the hand! Instead after pressing your seam or hem, you put the clapper on it and let it cool. Doing this is critical when sewing with stubborn fabrics (like wool and denim) and can make or break the finished look of garments. When working with varied substrates, it helps set them in position whereas they tend to fight with each other.

Sleeve board 
sleeve boardAgain, for garment sewists, this little guy is a must. It might seem unneeded but the end result is well worth it. Think of it like taking off the extension table  on your sewing machine…you don’t have to do so in order to sew the armscye, but man, does it make it easier (and usually with a much better result!). The same goes for a sleeve board. You could try to wing it and finagle the sleeve around to avoid that big crease down the arm, but save yourself the frustration and get a sleeve board.

Seam roller 
seam rollerGetting up to iron between every seam on a quilt block is so tedious, but I know that every seam needs to be pressed. I would do it, begrudgingly, until I was introduced to the seam roller. Basically it’s just a narrow brayer with a slight curve to it that lets you press seams flat-ish without getting up from your machine. This works well for paper piecing as long as I press from both sides and every couple seams give it a real press with a hot iron.  You can also use a wooden iron for the same basic result, I just kinda like the rolling action.

My best tips and techniques: 
First, a tangent: As quilters, let’s not get into the pre-wash/don’t argument, but for garment sewing…please, please pre-wash your fabric using whatever method/cycle/detergent you typically use. I’ve had my own bad experiences and seen too many students use unwashed fabrics to make beautifully fitted garments that then shrunk in all sorts of weird ways over the next few washes.

So once you’ve washed it (for garments) or unfolded it (for quilting), give it a good ironing. Use your starch, or starch alternative, to give it some body and get all the big wrinkles and creases out. This will make cutting easier and more precise.

IMG_4217.JPGGive it time to cool off, especially when you need a crisp edge (i.e. wool anything, facings, sleeve cuffs, pocket flaps, etc.)

Press open or to the back for garments, press open or to the side for quilting (see how I avoided that argument, too?!).

press dartsPress your darts down or toward the center on garments. Be careful not to over press the darts since they can get a shadow from the fold of the dart if you aren’t careful.

Press seams flat first to set the seam and help sink the threads into the fabric. Then press whichever way suits you

IMG_6362Press the wrong side of the fabric first, then turn it over and press from the front. Unless you’re pressing fabrics with serious nap, such as velvet or corduroy. With those you can only press from the back side of the fabric.

Give it a final once-over to give it a polished look, whether it’s a quilt top or dress or anything in between.  The difference can be pretty amazing and like a fresh coat of paint, a good pressing makes it look all new and lovely.

 Any tips or tricks you’d add? I’d love to hear them; just leave a comment.

P.S. If you’re wondering what the difference is between pressing and ironing, the simple answer is that ironing involves rubbing the iron back and forth (which is great for large swaths but not for seams), while pressing involves lifting the iron up and down along the fabric (this avoids stretching the fabric at all). 

8 thoughts on “The Importance of Pressing”

  1. Hi Teresa! I learned garment sewing in 4-H club and you are right, pressing is drilled into you. I get really freaked if i can’t press as I work. It does make a big difference! My long arm quilter always flips over how tidy the quilt tops are that I have brought to her. She says most people barely press. Your post is so informative and helpful – i learned about some tools (the clapper and the roller) that I’ve never tried before. Using the roller for paper piecing sounds like it would be a boon.
    As you wrote, starch is a great ironing aid. I use starch for almost every project. That being said, I learned the hard way to starch before sewing the blocks and not after.

  2. Czytam ten tekst przy pomocy translatora, rozumiem może połowę. Translator bardzo przekręca znaczenie słów i wielu rzeczy trzeba się domyślać, a być może domysły nie są poprawne.
    Ja jestem z tych, którzy prasują po zakończeniu pracy albo nie prasują wcale. Tymczasem autorka przekonuje, że to jest ważna część pracy i że dzięki prasowaniu łatwiej jest szyć całość z bloków. Nie wiem dlaczego, ale moje żelazko zawsze wydaje mi się zbyt chłodne, mimo że jest nastawione na bawełnę. Może powinnam zacząć korzystać z wody z rozpylacza. Takiego czegoś jak kostka (clapper) albo rolka do szwów (seam roller) nigdy nie widziałam i nawet nie wiedziałam, że istnieją.

  3. When pressing for patchwork I lay the sewn bits with the dark side up and the seam away from me so that after I press the line of stitching I simply flip the dark fabric over and press away from myself, the seam is then automatically pressed toward “the dark side”. I agree that pressing every step makes a huge difference and I have been teaching beginners for 20 years so I know first hand the difference it makes.

  4. Yes, a thousand times yes to all of this. It may be because I started sewing at 12 with a mom who had sewn all her life and took courses at the local community college in tailoring and drapery making, but I think I learned to use the iron before I actually sat at the sewing machine. I do have to laugh – I’ve been using Black & Decker irons for thirty plus years. I still miss the old, $10 steam iron that got hot as Hades and weighed a ton – it pressed seams like no other iron since.

  5. Oh, Teresa! I don’t disagree with you at all, but you would be so horrified with the finger-pressed improv patchwork I have been working on. LOL! xoxo

  6. Pingback: What’s What: Top-stitching, Edge-stitching, Under-stitching – crinkle dreams

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top