20 January 2016

Ten Tips for Pressing Your Sewing Projects Like a Pro!

If you’ve been sewing for more than ten minutes, you’ve probably heard that pressing can do absolute wonders for your dressmaking projects. A hot and steamy session with the iron can shape and set fabric, smooth out wrinkles, create neatly defined seam lines, and generally take your handmade creations to a whole new level.

Today I thought I’d share ten tips for pressing your sewing projects. And I’d love to hear any other tips you have in the comments!

Press seams flat, then wrong side, then right side
When pressing a seam, give it a quick press as sewn first, in other words, while it’s still flat, before you fold the seam allowances open or to the side. Pressing it flat will help set the stitches into the fabric and reduce any impressions made by the thread. Next, press the seam either open or to the side on the wrong side of the fabric, gently pulling the fabric away from the seam line with your fingers. Finally, press it on the right side, again easing the fabric away from the seam so you aren't left with any ridges.

Shape before pressing
The heat and steam from pressing can help “train” a garment into a particular shape. Try to avoid pulling a curved area, such as a neckline or collar, into a straight line as it’s going under the iron. Set up the shape you want to create first, then press the iron on top to set it.

Use the end of the ironing board
If you just want to press a small area, such as a collar, and don’t want to squidge up the rest of your lovely dress, position the collar on the end of the ironing board and dangle the rest of the fabric off the end of it. That way the iron will only press the bit you actually want to press.

Use shaping tools
Ironing boards are wonderful inventions, but sometimes you need an extra tool to help press the garment into the shape that you want, rather than just flat. Press darts and other curved areas over a tailor’s ham to help give them a nice shape. Insert a sleeve board or seam roll into narrow tubes such as sleeves and trouser legs that won’t fit over your ironing board. Don’t want to invest in extra tools, or want to DIY it? Tightly roll up a towel as a makeshift alternative, or here’s a great tutorial on making your own tailor’s ham and seam roll (or sausage).

Add a protective layer
Touching the plate of the iron to the fabric can sometimes damage it, leaving an unwanted sheen or even scorch marks. Always test out the iron setting on a scrap of fabric to check it’s not too hot and that it can handle the steam. If you place a pressing cloth – in other words, a layer of muslin, another or the same fabric, or even a sheet of lightweight paper – over the fabric before pressing, it should help protect it from excess steam and heat so you can turn the setting up a bit higher. A pressing cloth is also handy for pressing interfacing to fabric to help stop it squidging up with the moisture from the iron.

Hover, steam and finger press
In fact, you don’t necessarily need to touch the iron to the fabric at all in some cases. Press the seam open or to the side using your fingers, then, with your fingers out of the way, hover the iron over the seam and puff out some steam. Now, while it’s still hot and moist, run your fingers along the seam line again to reinforce the shape. Mind you don’t burn your fingers!

Avoid seam allowance impressions with a strip of card
Have you ever pressed a seam and found that the edge of the seam allowance leaves a line mark on the fabric? Most annoying. Slip a strip of heavy-ish paper or card between the fabric and the seam allowance before pressing to avoid it leaving impressions.

Avoid neat tap water
If you live in an area with hard water, you’ve probably suffered the dreaded murky water splutter on your lovely handmade dresses. The higher concentrations of minerals in hard water makes irons prone to limescale build up, limescale that they’ll eventually spit out all over your treasured Nani Iro double gauze. You can help keep your iron steam fresh by mixing tap water with distilled water or special iron water. The latter can also make your clothes smell gorgeous, which is always a bonus.

Save up your pressing
If you’re following instructions in a book or pattern, they may tell you to press a seam after sewing it. That doesn’t mean you have to press it then and there before moving on to the next step – you’ll save time by batch pressing a few seams at once. Just make sure you press a seam before you sew another seam across it, otherwise you won't be able to press the whole length of it the direction you want it to go.

Pimp up your ironing board
Last but not least, if the Ikea cover on your ironing board is doing nothing for your life, make your own cover in a snazzy fabric of your choice! It’ll brighten up your sewing room and put a smile on your face every time you plug in that iron.

Do you have any pressing tips for sewing projects of your own to share? Let us know in the comments!


  1. You gave me the tip about using the end of the ironing board on the Mathilde blouse course. I still use it!
    My mother in law bought a new iron and it recommend to use deionised water and not the posh iron waters. X

  2. I use my ironing board for many processes as well as pressing, it allows me to stand up with the surface higher than a normal table. When lining a jacket, place a sleeve board on top and drape your work over it, this can help to ensure the fabric and lining end up the same size, without twists and wrinkles. di@sew-it.biz

  3. I'm so intrigued by ironing water! Do you have any recommended products?

    1. I just use the stuff from Sainsburys... it smells lurvely!

  4. You may gasp but I use the water out of our water butt because our tap water is so hard! It is free of course! Jo x

  5. I too am intrigued about ironing water. I've never heard of it. But my hardest problem is taking the time to iron at all. I hate it! I grudgingly do it when absolutely necessary on my projects. I need to learn to love it, or at least accept it. :)

  6. In Scotland we have the most beautiful clean & tasty water but I did live in Eastbourne for a few years & always used ironing water otherwise my iron was wrecked so quickly & urgh the taste. You can buy the ironing water in any supermarket, it's near the washing powder section, in a bottle, and usually up higher on a shelf.

    1. Oh you're so lucky to have good water, Sara! London water is horrible :(

  7. Two things. I can't remember where I read it but a test showed that pressing both sides of the seam as it is sewn had better results than pressing just one side. The other is that I read that metallic ironing board covers are not recommended (I need to change mine!). My iron instructions advise against fancy waters; I use tap water but my water is not hard.

  8. Have a look for di-ionised water online, you can buy it in a range of quantities and works a treat! You can also get ironing water in supermarkets that smells beautiful but can become an expensive habit :/

  9. I have some more tips:

    - buy a spray bottle. Great to dampen things - let it rest for a bit, and natural fibres (particularly linen) will soften up and be more obedient under the iron. Also good for spots where the steam iron is struggling.

    - if you sew a lot of white (or are making a wedding dress) have an inexpensive iron which you only use without water. You'll never have rust spots spat out onto a pristine garment again!

    - make a dauber (a small roll of felt or thick wool) - used to dampen specific spots. It's an old tailor's trick, and easy to make from an offcut.

    - Have a range of press cloths - silk organza is great because it's see-through. An old, clean dampened man's handkerchief is great when pressing wool into shape. A teflon cloth is great for interfacing and applique.

    - I lost my ham, so I bought another one - and the first one (of course) promptly turned up. I'm glad I've got two identical hams, because now I can steam both sleeve heads of a jacket at the same time, and leave them to cool and dry overnight. This job used to take twice as long, or I'd move one before it was ready, and not be happy with the results.

    - I keep all my pressing stuff (including lint brushes, a spare gauge when pressing hems, scissors, etc) in a box next to my iron. That way I never feel tempted to use the wrong thing, because it's at the other end of the house!

    1. Thanks for sharing your pressing tips, Anne. I particularly like the one about making a dauber - I must try that :)

  10. I would recommend a clapper. My garments have really improved, it makes difficult to press fabrics behave really well. I've just bought a tailor board so I'll be testing it soon.

  11. Great tips!


  12. I saw this tip in a children's shirt pattern, but I've used it successfully for anywhere I've placed a patch pocket. Take your pocket pattern piece and trace it onto card stock (I like to use old cereal boxes). Then I measure out the seam allowance and cut it off to make a finished size template and press the cut pocket piece around it. This is especially useful for pockets with curved corners.

    1. That's a great idea for getting a neat shape - I must try that!

  13. Great tips. I recovered my ironing board last year and padded it with a cut up 100 % wool blanket from the charity shop, makes such a difference. I have no idea why.


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