Enforcing the different garment pressing techniques will change the look and feel of handmade clothes instantly.
Personally ever since I started sewing, I’ve always enjoyed the pressing part of making my clothes. When I used to finish sewing up a garment, I wouldn’t wait a minute to get the iron on my hands because that’s when I felt that I could see the finished results coming through- Pressing made the garment look sharp and crisp and overall complete.
However, something wasn’t quite right.
You see, where I did all the pressing once I finished stitching the garments I found that it’s hard to press into the nooks and crannies so; the seams and the sleeve hems etc. which made my stuff still look somewhat homemade!
Where these are hard to reach areas they have their techniques for pressing BUT the trick is to press them as you sew along- I want to repeat it…
“Press your seams as you sew along!” yep. Can’t stress that enough.
So this is what this article is about, giving you all the different techniques for pressing different areas of a garment.
One thing to note, you will find that with commercial sewing patterns the instructions will demonstrate pressing techniques along the way but I find that sometimes with PDF patterns online don’t always include this, so I highly suggest you bookmark this page for future reference.
Why is garment pressing important in sewing?
- Pressing the garment as you construct it will allow you to get into all the nooks and crannies of it. Allowing for all areas to come out looking, crisp, clean, and professional.
- Not only that but when you sew a newly stitched seam then pressing it will assure that the stitch sets into the material which stabilizes the seam.
What’s the difference between pressing and ironing?
You will always hear the word pressing rather than ironing in sewing. And that isn’t something that’s happening by chance because there is a great deal of difference for using the iron for pressing vs. ironing.
Pressing is when you use the motion of holding down then lifting the iron away from the fabric.
In sewing, we press our garments because the motion of pressing allows us to use the heat and moisture to set the stitches to the fibers of the fabric.
With ironing, on the other hand, you glide the iron up and down the fabric which can stretch the material- and we don’t want that!
What basic equipment is used for pressing?
The necessary equipment needed for pressing your garments is nothing but what you will already have at home, and that is as follows:
- Iron (with lots of steam!)
- Ironing board
It’s worth having some tools handy for getting into the different areas of the garment as with them pressing into the nukes and crannies becomes a breeze!
I will mention them as I go throughout this post, and I have also listed down all these tools on the bottom of this article. If you want to know what they are; have a look at the end of the article.
There are TWO steps for pressing the seams of a garment:
Step 1: Always press a freshly sewn seam. Meaning that as you sew- press a newly stitched seams as you go along.
What this does to the fibers of the fabric along with the stitch line is, it secures and sets the seam with the fibers of the fabric. It helps in making the seam area look more sharp and crisp on the front end.
Doing this can be bothersome when you are having to keep going back and forth between the machine and the iron but trust me; the effort is worth it.
I will tell a beginner to get in the rhythm of doing this so that it becomes second nature- when it does become a habit it; you wouldn’t feel that you’re doing it! I’ve made it a habit!
How do you press seam allowances?
Press your seam allowances by holding the iron down on the stitching with plenty of steam. Lift the iron and repeat on down the stitch line in this way. Which is what we call ‘pressing.’
Step 2: Then, depending on the fabric press the seam open or closed to one side.
The fabric your working with will determine how to press the seam, if the fabric is lightweight, then it’s fine to make a closed seam pressed to one side. Likewise, if the material you work with is heavyweight, then it’s best to press the seam open.
There are more details about how to finish your clothes seams in the article I wrote over here if you wanted more information on that.
Why do you press seams open?
The reason why we would press a seam open is to avoid bulk in that area. We press the seam open when the material is heavyweight that can easily create volume when you have a build up of fabric layers in the seam.
When this happens your finished garment on the front side will show through this unpleasant bulk- and that is what we’re trying to avoid!
How to press an open seam:
- Press the newly stitched seam.
- Open that seam with one hand and at the same time press it along with the iron (use the pointed tip of the iron to help open the seam).
How to press a closed seam:
- Press the newly stitched seam.
- With one hand encourage the seam to stay on one side while pressing along behind it with the iron.
If you need some guidance on how to neaten the seam (raw edges), then read my article on how to finish a seam on a sewing machine. Especially if you don’t have a serger/overlocker then it’s a must read!
Which way should the seam face: the direction of the seam?
#2 Seam direction
When you sew your seams closed and press to one side… which side should you press it to?
Here’s the simple answer; ‘all seams are directed towards the back’
Here are a few instances:
- Side seams- goes towards the back
- Sleeve seam goes towards the back
- Shoulder seam- towards the back
The sleeve seams are usually in a narrow space; thus pressing them can be quite a task when you don’t have a sleeve board handy. With sewing, you will very quickly learn that attention to detail is the majority of the tasks required to achieve a good result. Therefore when you have these (what seems like) insignificant tools to hand then you’ll realize how much of a breeze sewing is.
A sleeve board is beneficial when you need to press the seams of your sleeves plus, the hem as well!
Which way do you press sleeve seams?
So, if you have a closed seam on your sleeves then press that seam going towards the back of the body. When you slip the left sleeve onto the sleeve board with the hem side down, then press the seam facing the right side- and vice versa.
Pro tip: The way that helps me remember this is “left with right & right with the left” hope that helps!
#4 Sleeve cap
Getting into the sleeve cap can be quite a battle if you don’t have a tailor’s ham as this area is small and curved. Fine! If you have sewn a sleeve cap before sewing up the seams of the sleeves, but often with a set-in sleeve, the area will be small.
A tailors ham is easily found online or at any fabric store.
Alternately there are many free patterns available online for making one yourself! I liked the way Elewa explains how to make one on her blog, which is the one I used to make mine- give it a try!
Which way do you press the sleeve cap seams?
Press the sleeve cap seam towards the bodice.
When you sew a dart, the first thing is as always to press that seam. Then, depending on what style of dart you have on the garment you’re working with will determine the direction to press it in.
Here’s a way that I remember the direction to press a dart “Down and Centred.” What this means is with vertical darts press them facing the center. For horizontal darts face them pressed downwards. Easy!
You can press a dart on a flat surface; however, if your dart is somewhat curved, then a tailors ham will help with that.
With facings, make sure that before any of the pressing you clip and trim the seam. The reason for this is to eliminate possible bulk in that area. Plus it will help the curve to form in a better way when we go to press it.
Once those two things are done then press the seam along the newly stitched line then, at this point you usually would do a top stitch on the facing. Only then have the facing turned to the underside of the garment and press.
The big one here is not to slide the iron side to side when you press the hem! It will stretch out the fabric.
So, once you finish the raw edge of the hem, you will need to mark the hem allowance. Then fold along this marking. At this point, what I like to do is anchor the hem with pins at the side seam points.
Only then do I start pressing as I fold with my other hand along with the markings.
Typically collars will have points, and the points have to be crisp in that way. So to make sure that your collars come out this way, you first will have to press the points and trim off the excess fabric on an angle. Then with the help of something with a point ideally a point presser (traditionally used for this purpose) get into the points and press.
The same would apply to lapels as they too have pointed corners.
#9 Trouser seams
You will find that when you sew up a pair of trousers, each leg gets stitched first and then joined at the crotch seams. With the individual legs before they get joined, you can slip a leg through a seam roll. The seam roll will aid in getting into the leg seam much easier that way.
Again, a seam roll is available at any online or in-store fabric shop. Plus the pattern from Elewa for the tailor’s ham I mentioned earlier also comes with a seam roll!
#10 As much as possible press on the wrong side
Whenever possible, it’s good practice to do all the pressing on the reverse side of your project. It helps to save yourself from causing any damage or marring onto the good side.
Plus sticking by this rule will ensure for some of us who aren’t up to scratch on the knowledge about the fabric that we’re working with to keep it safe from possible damages.
#11 Use pressing cloth
A pressing cloth isn’t always required but, it’s good to have one handy in your stash because there are two occasions for when it’s likely to come in use.
- For preventing the iron marking (giving off shine)
- For blocking some delicate fabrics from burning
Where to find a pressing cloth?
All a pressing cloth is a fabric that’s silk organza or muslin which is readily available at any fabric store. You can buy about half a meter of one of these then if you like you may cut it in half to get a smaller square piece which means you’ll have two then!
Tip: Don’t bother with doing anything to the edges like, hemming the raw edge or else it will defeat the purpose. As that can leave dent marks on your fabric from pressing. (I learned this first hand lol)
#12 Steam steam lots of steam!
Fill up your iron with plenty of water because pressing when it comes to sewing involves lots and lots of steam. The added benefit of filling the iron with water is it adds weight to the iron, which also helps in the pressing.
Tip: Go easy on silks when it comes to steam- but then you can always use a pressing cloth to act as a barrier.
#13 Pressing gathers
Begin off by pressing on the stitch line and do this with slight pressure to get everything to set and lay flat for the next part of the pressing. After sliding the iron up and down on the gathers, this will help the gathered creases to be more prominent.
Pressing in garment construction makes your handmade clothes look professional. It’s not just any old pressing; instead, the specific techniques involved in getting there- it’s about pressing along as you sew, into the nooks and crannies of the garment.
And sewing into those nooks and crannies couldn’t be done without the aid of the different tools making the process a heck lot a breeze!
So to recap, what are the pressing tools?
That’ll do for now, phew! I wonder if this post gave you a better understanding about the importance of pressing in garment construction because I sure would love to know- leave me a comment and let me know down below:)