Using an iron for pressing may not seem that critical when you’re sewing, but it can make a big difference in the appearance of your finished garment. Further, during construction, pressing and ironing the appropriate seams with make sewing smoother and easier and eliminate issues that can arise.
Ironing vs. Pressing
Ironing and pressing are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing at all. When ironing, the iron slides around the fabric – back and forth, up and down, round and round. This is probably what you’re most familiar with when you remove wrinkles from a garment.
Pressing is a different movement. It’s more of an up and down – a vertical type of operation. Put the iron down, wait a heartbeat, pick it up, move it to another place, wait. Rinse. Repeat.
Okay, so what’s the big deal? Why two different things? When should you use each technique? And what’s the big deal anyway?
As you sew, you’ll find that pressing your seams open (or to one side or another, depending on the directions you’re following) will allow the garments to look finished and hang, drape or take shape against the body properly. Press each seam as you sew it according to the directions. Darts usually press to the sides and most other seams press open. In addition, when you press seams open prior to sewing additional seams to the same piece, you’ll find there is less bulk near the seam and it makes a nice smooth seam on the next section.
Recently, I was taking in some pants for my mother-in-law at her house and I asked her to borrow her ham. She looked at me as if I had sprouted a second head. No, no, not a honey baked ham. A tailor’s ham is a rounded and very firmly stuffed little pillow. It almost looks as if someone hacked a football in half and stuffed it. Here’s one on Amazon. You can also pick them up at just about any fabric store. A ham is great for pressing curved and rounded seams like princess seams or rounded skirt or dress seams. If you don’t have a ham, you can roll up a towel and use that in a pinch. (Confession: I don’t own a ham. I just use a towel.)
To Steam or Not to Steam, That is the Question
When ironing cottons or other natural fabrics prior to actually beginning construction, I recommend a bit of steam to get the wrinkles out. (You always iron your fabric before you lay out your pattern, right? I thought so.) In fact, in my hats, I always wash first, then iron and then cut. That way nothing will shrink up later.
However, during construction, when pressing pieces I’ve already cut out or seams I’ve sewn, I don’t use steam. You will find that steam can cause your fabric to shrink or distort, especially on the bias or curved edges. However, if this happens, you can use a bit of a hot steamy iron while pressing to steam it back a bit smaller.
Now you now one of the key ingredients to achieving clean and polished-looking home sewing projects. If you want more information about this topic, I recommend this post over on Craftsy. If you’re a beginning sewer, Craftsy also has a lot of great online courses you can try out.